In a long-suspected move, Montana’s Democratic governor this morning appointed his lieutenant governor to fill a vacant Senate seat.
“I introduce to you Sen. John Walsh,” Gov. Steve Bullock announced in a press conference shortly after 10 this morning.
Bullock, after listing Walsh’s accomplishments including as a 33-year veteran of the Montana National Guard, appointed him to fill the seat vacated by 35-year U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, who was confirmed Thursday as ambassador to China.
Baucus, a Democrat, stunned the political world by announcing last March he would not run for re-election.
He was confirmed unanimously by his fellow senators Thursday as the new U.S. ambassador to China.
Walsh said he would be going to Washington Monday and sworn in Tuesday and “immediately getting to work.”
He said he now “embarks on a new mission.”
He said many major challenges face the Senate, and “Sen. Baucus does leave big boots to fill … but I am confident that working with (Sen. Jon) Tester and (Rep. Steve) Daines we can meet those challenges.”
Bullock sidestepped a question about the implications of the appointment in the election for the seat.
“I’ll leave it to the voters in November to decide, but I chose the man I thought would be most effective (in the Senate),” he said.
He said he will move quickly on filling the lieutenant governor position, but no decision has been made.
Walsh also declined to talk about the implications in the 2014 election.
“I will let the pundits talk about those things but I will be focused, as I have been focused on the job of lieutenant governor, on doing the job of U.S. senator,” he said. “We will let the voters decide in November.”
The appointment complicates an already-contentious race to fill the seat next year.
While no one has formally filed in this year‘s election as a candidate for the seat, Walsh and former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger, who served as a Republican lieutenant governor under Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, both have announced their intention to run as Democrats.
Dirk Adams, an attorney and former investment banker who owns a cattle ranch in Park County north of Livingstone, also has announced his intention to run as a Democrat.
The top candidate for the Republicans is Rep. Steve Daines of Bozeman, who in the 2012 election took the seat in the House vacated by Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont. Rehberg left his spot in his unsuccessful bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
Montana Rep. Champ Edmunds and Kalispell air traffic controller David Leaser also have announced their intention to run for the seat.
The Montana Republican Party has bashed Bullock for not giving notice of his plans on how to fill the seat, and called him to involve the citizens of Montana in selecting a replacement for Baucus.
Bohlinger has said he will withdraw from the race if Walsh is appointed, saying he could not compete with the fundraising ability and name recognition that would give Walsh.
But the appointment may not — or may — give a significant advantage to Walsh. While incumbent elected senators tend to win in a big way — more than 80 percent of the time — appointed senators have historically won their election bid less than half of the time.