Montana Lt. Gov. John Walsh, the national party’s favored candidate for the state’s open Senate seat, will become a senator next week. Gov. Steve Bullock has appointed him to fill the vacancy left by Max Baucus, the newly confirmed ambassador to the PRC. The move was expected for months—and politicked to death. As soon as the Baucus nomination broke, Montana Republicans advised/threatened that appointing Walsh instead of a placeholder would “jumpstart” the campaign. National Republicans warned of a “Montana two-step,” a crooked (well, not really) move to put Walsh in the Senate and strengthen him for November.
But it was never obvious that the appointment would be good for Walsh. Senators appointed to fill vacancies, if they run for election in their own right, only win about half the time. Kirsten Gillibrand and Michael Bennet could make it work; Jean Carnahan couldn’t. Until today Walsh had no connection to anything happening in Washington. For the next nine months, he’ll be casting votes in the Senate, with lots of opportunities to anger activists.
I say “activists” because it’s not even Republicans who feel most bitter about this appointment. Bob Brigham, campaign guru for Walsh’s primary opponent John Bohlinger, had been waging a two-month social media war to portray a Walsh appointment as a disaster. Right after Baucus got the call, Brigham put out a statement encouraging Bullock to appoint a placeholder like Carol Williams, who’d be the state’s first female senator. In recent weeks Brigham had grown more ominous, writing about the “curse” of governors who appoint their allies to the Senate.
Without a presidential race to draw turnout, a disaster at top of the ticket can be devastating down-ticket. #MTsen #MTleg #MTpol #MTnews — Bob Brigham (@BobBrigham) February 7, 2014
Will be interesting to see polling after @GovernorBullock’s pick. The history is pretty intense. http://t.co/VAuR74vySx #MTsen #MTpol — Bob Brigham (@BobBrigham) February 7, 2014
Big question for guv’s presser tomorrow is why Bullock put Walsh on the ticket after he failed vetting. Might explain a lot. #Mtpol #MTsen — Bob Brigham (@BobBrigham) February 7, 2014
Another recent guv on interim senator decision, “it’s fucking gold” http://t.co/3Ec9vN4fhX #MTpol #MTsen #14years — Bob Brigham (@BobBrigham) February 7, 2014
The last #MTgov who screwed up an Interim Senator appointment lost the confidence of @MTDems & lost renomination by over 11k votes. #MTpol — Bob Brigham (@BobBrigham) February 5, 2014
Last #MTgov to fail at #MTsen pick didn’t just lose renomination as guv, but became so unpopular his wife moved out of guv’s mansion. #Mtpol — Bob Brigham (@BobBrigham) February 5, 2014
Brigham has not yet commented on the Walsh move, which transforms Bohlinger from a primary opponent to a man challenging an incumbent senator.