In my previous post about Kentucky I presented this scenario of a Republican controlled Senate without Senator McConnell.
Here is another scenario: Republicans end up with a 51-49 advantage.
One seat would have made all the difference between a 50-50 Democratic Senate and a combative Republican Senate adding to the dysfunction in Washington.
In August it was revealed that Senator John Walsh (MT, D) plagiarized portions of a thesis while he was a student at the Army War College. Walsh previously was the Lieutenant Governor of Montana and was appointed to the senate seat to replace Max Baucus who was appointed as our ambassador to China.
Montana Democrats had to scramble to find a replacement candidate. At their convention in Helena, party supporters voted for Amanda Curtis to replace Senator Walsh as their candidate. Curtis is a first-term state representative from Butte and outside of the Montana Legislature, she is a high school math and physics teacher. State Representative Curtis has a YouTube channel that she uses to communicate and highlight her time in the Montana legislature.
She is not running for re-election for her house seat in 2014 citing that she wanted to finish her masters, but she said that she is eying a return to politics with a possible run for a seat in the Montana Senate in 2016.
With her nomination to run for US Senate this cycle that time table has been moved up and a different office is in play.
As I pointed out in my post about Kentucky, Montana too has a blue streak in state level politics. In 2006, Montana was a senate battleground. Jon Tester emerged as the winner with only 49.2% of the vote over the incumbent Conrad Burns. Six years later, Tester would again win with a plurality. His re-election in 2012 was featured in a Frontline report titled Big Sky, Big Money which looked at how the Citizens United decision gutted campaign finance reform laws and how the unlikely state of Montana found itself in the middle of that consequential decision.
In 2004, despite George W. Bush winning the state outright in the presidential election, Montana voters sent Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat, to the governor's mansion. In 2008, McCain won the state by a slim margin, but Schweitzer won re-election and Max Baucus was re-elected to the US Senate 74-26 carrying every county in the state. Romney won the state in 2012, but despite Schweitzer being term limited Democrat Steve Bullock won the gubernatorial election.
Montana Democrats have found a winning formula in their state, but this election cycle was going to be a tough one had Baucus stayed in the senate and was made worse by the Walsh plagiarism scandal. Curtis and her campaign should not be blamed when they lose this coming November. She was placed in an unusual circumstance. By the time that Curtis entered the race in August she was already trailing Republican candidate Steve Daines both in money and television ads. Also Daines has already won a statewide race. In 2012, Daines was elected to Montana's At-large congressional district so he also has name recognition.
When the Walsh plagiarism story broke, Nate Silver's Five Thirty Eight said that the Democrats odds of winning that senate seat went from slim to almost zero. Current odds per Five Thirty Eight show a greater than 99% chance of Republicans winning that seat. As does the New York Times' Senate model. The Washington Post's Election Lab show better odds for the Democratic candidate by giving the Republican candidate a 99% chance of winning.
The real missed opportunity in this is not the political one. It is the human story about how Senator Walsh plagiarized a paper and not only will it cost him a place in the United State Senate, but it also questions his integrity as an Army officer. Walsh touted his military background and integrity during his campaign and now that is gone.
This senate race could have lasting ramifications.