Montana governor appoints Democrat to replace Baucus in U.S. Senate
HELENA, Mont. - Montana’s lieutenant governor, John Walsh, was named on Friday to serve out the remaining term of retiring U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, a fellow Democrat and longtime incumbent who is vacating his seat early to become ambassador to China.
Walsh’s appointment by Montana’s Democratic governor, Steve Bullock, does not alter the balance of power in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Walsh is expected to run for a full six-year term in the November congressional elections, though he likely will face a serious Republican challenge in a vast, rural Western state that leans conservative.
“I wanted to appoint someone who I believed would be working to find solutions, not further dividing our state and nation,” Bullock said at a press conference in the state capitol building in Helena. “And I wanted to appoint someone who I truly believed would wake up each day focused on putting Montana and Montanans first.”
Walsh, 53, who served for more than 30 years in Montana’s National Guard, which included a deployment to Iraq and four years as commander of the Guard, was elected lieutenant governor in 2012.
“There’s a lot we need to fix in Washington,” Walsh told reporters at the press conference.
“There are too many politicians who put their own political agendas ahead of doing what’s right, too many folks who don’t take responsibility for their actions. That’s not how I work. That’s not how Montana works,” he said.
The race for Baucus’ seat in November is seen as one of the key campaigns that will determine whether the Democrats maintain their majority in the Senate for the last two years of President Barack Obama’s term in office. Democrats currently control 55 of the 100 seats there.
Walsh said he would run for the seat last year after Baucus, who headed the powerful Senate Finance Committee, overseeing tax and trade policy, announced he would retire rather than seek re-election in 2014. Walsh’s interim Senate appointment became widely expected once Baucus decided to vacate his seat early to accept the post as Obama’s top diplomatic envoy to China.
His appointment as ambassador was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on Thursday.
Nominal boost for Democrats
The appointment will allow Walsh to establish a voting record and other advantages of incumbency, such as increasing his visibility and access to potential campaign donors before November’s mid-term elections.
The Cook Political Report, a Washington newsletter, rates the upcoming Montana race as “Lean Republican,” meaning Republicans are viewed as having an advantage over Democrats. That did not change with Walsh’s appointment.
Although Baucus, a moderate Democrat, was elected to six consecutive six-year terms starting in 1978, a majority of Montana voters last supported a Democratic presidential candidate in 1992, when then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton was running for the White House.
Montana Republicans cast Bullock’s appointment of Walsh as a “backroom” deal that gives Walsh an unfair edge in November. Republican Congressman Steve Daines, Montana’s lone member of the U.S. House of Representatives, is regarded as Walsh’s most likely opponent.
State Republican Party Chairman Will Deschamps criticized the appointment, saying in a statement that Bullock had “sent Montanans a clear message that he would rather take marching orders from Barack Obama and (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid than listen to the people of Montana.”
Walsh’s resignation as lieutenant governor will become effective on Sunday night. He will be sworn-in as a U.S. senator in Washington on Tuesday. Bullock said he would announce soon his choice to replace Walsh as lieutenant governor.