It’s difficult to see how Democrat John Walsh can recover following the New York Times investigation that showed he partially plagiarized a research project required for his master’s degree while at the U.S. Army War College.
Yes, politicians have recovered from far worse, but Walsh already faced an uphill battle, trailing in the polls in a state where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular. Following the revelations by reporter Jonathan Martin, the reaction among the state and national media was swift – with many taking to Twitter to declare the race essentially over.
Longtime political analyst Jeff Greenfield wrote, “I suspect some MT Dems are looking at state’s election laws to see if it’s too late to change their Senate candidate.”
Slate’s senior political reporter Dave Weigel: “Anyway, congrats to Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT).”
And former Billings Gazette editor Steve Prosinski added: “John Walsh had slim chance of victory in MT. After his plagiarism scandal, the Democrat’s odds? Almost zilch.”
Attached to Prozsinki’s tweet was a link to a story outlining the long odds of Walsh making a comeback, especially since before the story broke the senator hadn’t led his opponent, Republican Steve Daines, in a single survey.
Nonetheless, Walsh has no plans of dropping out of the race and said he made an “unintentional mistake” by leaving out a “few citations.” The state’s Democrats, including Gov. Steve Bullock and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, have rallied to his side.
“It’s a hit, but it’s not a death knell,” Tester told Politico. “And I think absolutely, once the facts are out, people will understand it.”
Right now, however, the facts don’t look good for Walsh. After the Times broke the story, the Associated Press reviewed the 14-page paper and found that it “includes a series of unattributed passages taken from the writings of other scholars.” And now the Army War College is conducting its own investigation.
Walsh has said he wrote the paper while suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq, was on medication and grappling with a fellow soldier’s recent suicide. Walsh later clarified those comments, telling KMMS Radio in Bozeman that “I am in no way … tying what I did to any type of PTSD.”
Other politicians, such as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Vice President Joe Biden, have been accused of plagiarism and faced varying consequences. Paul was accused of lifting passages for his book and a series of columns he wrote for the Washington Times. Paul acknowledged he should have been more careful and the issue basically went away. He is now mulling a presidential bid. Joe Biden, on the other hand, dropped out of the 1988 race for president after it was revealed that he had plagiarized portions of his stump speeches from a variety of sources.
Now more than ever, a political candidate’s college papers, traffic citations and investments will be pored over in the run-up to Election Day. The New York Times won’t say how it obtained the Walsh story, but as the Associated Press reported, “it looked like the product of classic opposition research” – that is, the million-dollar business of digging up dirt on political opponents.
It will be interesting to see where Walsh stands after the next round of poll numbers are released. Just days before the Times report, his campaign had sent a press release touting recent results from Public Policy Polling that showed him within 7 points of Daines, a 10-point gain since November.
There is a lot of time before Election Day to change the narrative in this race. But most everyone who has looked at the document agrees this is not simply a case of poor citation and to maintain that this was an unintentional mistake will do little to put the issue to rest.
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