Walsh tapped as successor to Baucus

National Guard Bureau

Montana Lt. Gov. John Walsh (D) will be Max Baucus's replacement in the Senate, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) announced Friday.

Walsh's appointment of his running mate could boost Walsh's chances at winning a full term in the fall and give Democrats a better shot at holding onto control of the Senate. Walsh was already running for the seat the longtime Democratic senator was set to vacate at the end of his term, but Baucus was nominate and confirmed as the next U.S. ambassador to China. 

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Bullock said when making his decision, he was looking for many of the same qualities he looked for in picking Walsh as his running mate in 2012. 

"Today, My friend and my colleague embarks on a new mission. I introduce to you United States Sen. John Walsh," said Bullock. 

Walsh promised to work across the aisle as senator, emphasizing many of his campaign's themes in his remarks.

"There are too many politicians who put their own political agendas ahead of what's right, too many folks that don't take their responsibilities seriously. That's not how I work, and that's not how Montanans work," Walsh said. "This isn't about party, this is about leaders who will put Montana and Montanans first."

Walsh promised to focus on civil liberties, economic growth, cutting the deficit and protecting veterans. He said he'd be sworn in on Tuesday. 

Bullock had long been expected to appoint Walsh to the Senate — he'd already endorsed his running mate's candidacy. But he said he hadn't told Walsh that he was the choice until Thursday night, after Baucus was confirmed. 

Walsh's appointment follows Baucus's confirmation by the Senate on Thursday to be the next ambassador to China and his subsequent resignation.

Walsh said he hoped to be named to the Senate Armed Services and Agriculture committees, two important committees for Montanans. 

The newly appointed senator also pushed back against the impression that Bullock's choice was a backroom deal or that he'd lose touch with the state as senator.

"We will allow the electorate to decide who is the best candidate in November," said Walsh. 

"I'm not going to get sucked into Washington, D.C. I'm going to continue to focus on Montana. Montana is my home," he said later.

Walsh is a former adjutant general, leading the Montana National Guard, and has made his time in the military a big part of his campaign story. He said the troops he'd commanded inspired him to continue serving his state.

"In 2004, I was asked to lead more than 700 Montana men and women into combat in northern Iraq," he said.  It took incredible courage for those men and women to do what our nation asked of them. They put service before self. And they took responsibility for their work. They did it darn well, and with honor. What those Montana soldiers and airmen did in Iraq was inspiring. And I rely on that inspiration every day."

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which had backed Walsh in his primary over former Montana Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger (D), praised the appointment. Bohlinger is expected to drop out of the race now that Walsh has been appointed.

"Lieutenant Governor John Walsh has spent his life serving his state and his country, and I applaud Governor Bullock’s decision to appoint him to the US Senate," DSCC Chairman Michael Bennet (Colo.) said in a statement. "John is the kind of guy who may not agree with the party on every single issue, but he has the selflessness and courage to always do what he thinks is right for Montana, and that is exactly the kind of leadership we need here in the US Senate."

Republicans wasted little time in attacking Walsh, releasing a web ad showing him as a puppet of President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

"Harry Reid and President Obama have pulled all the strings they can to clear the way for their hand-picked, scandal-plagued choice John Walsh," said NRSC Press Secretary Brook Hougesen in a statement. "It's downright shocking that Democrats are arrogant enough to support and appoint a man who has been named a defendant in multiple lawsuits, has a disastrous management record, and whose ability to lead has been openly questioned by top military officials in America. Montanans deserve better leadership."

The appointment could boost Walsh in his uphill battle to hold the seat for Democrats in the fall. Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) has led in polling by a wide margin and has more than four times the cash on hand Walsh has, with $1.9 million in his campaign account to Walsh's $435,000.

Past candidates named to the Senate, including Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Bennet, used their position in the Senate to amass much larger war chests than they otherwise would have been able to, and raised their profiles in their home states in a way they never could have as candidates.

But even as a sitting senator, Walsh will be the underdog in the Republican-leaning state. Obama's numbers are particularly abysmal in Montana right now, and it will be hard for any Democrat to win there this year.

— This post was last updated at 2:35 p.m.

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