Montana governor Steve Bullock (D) has appointed Lieutenant Governor John Walsh to serve the remainder of Senator Max Baucus’ (D-MT) term, potentially giving the Democrat a leg up in the state’s crucial November Senate election.
“I wanted to appoint someone who I believed would represent the values Montanans hold important,” Bullock said at the Friday press conference in Helena.
Walsh, who served as Adjutant General of the Montana National Guard before joining Bullock’s gubernatorial ticket in 2012, was already considered the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in the race to replace the retiring Baucus. When President Obama selected Baucus as the new U.S. ambassador to China, it presented an opportunity for Walsh to head to Washington earlier than he had hoped.
Walsh’s appointment should allow him to lock up the Democratic nomination — one of his opponents, former lieutenant governor John Bohlinger, has suggested that he would drop out were Walsh appointed to the seat — and could theoretically give him a boost in November. Incumbents tend to have a major advantage in Senate elections; over 75 percent have been re-elected in every election cycle since 1980 (and in 8 of those 17 cycles, over 90 percent of incumbents won another term).
There is some reason to question how much the appointment will help Walsh, however. The new senator will only spend about eight months in office before Election Day, and given Congress’ historic unpopularity, it may not be the best time to run a campaign from Washington.
Perhaps luckily for Walsh, he is not the only congressman pursuing Baucus’ seat. The Republican nominee will most likely be U.S. Representative Steve Daines, who has represented Montana’s at-large congressional district since 2013. History suggests that the deeply unpopular Republican House majority could drag Daines down in the general election; in 2012, just one of the seven GOP representatives seeking Senate seats successfully won a spot in the upper chamber.
Republicans are counting on Montana being one of the net six seats they must gain to win a Senate majority in 2014, and early polling of the race suggests that Daines will begin as a heavy favorite in the state that President Obama lost by 14 percent in 2012. Democrats do tend to fare better in Senate elections in Montana, however; just two Republicans have represented the state in the Senate during the past century.
Senate Democrats are apparently happy to have Walsh join their ranks. Almost immediately after Governor Bullock announced the appointment, Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) — the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — issued a statement applauding the decision, saying “John will demonstrate the leadership and courage to fight every day for Montana’s best interests, and will make a great senator for his state.”
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