Appointing Walsh Does Increase His Odds of Winning

David Parker, professor of political science at MSU, and Robert Saldin,  associate professor of political science at the University of Montana, have suggested over the past couple of days that appointing John Walsh to the Senate seat would not increase his chances of winning, citing a modest benefit in previous elections:

According to data compiled by Nate Silver and updated by us, of the 52 senators appointed to fill seats as of 2012, only 22 — or 42 percent — have been reelected.

A deeper look at the data, however, suggests that appointing Walsh will offer a significant boost to his candidacy, as recent appointees have done quite well in their subsequent elections.

In fact, since 1990, the beginning of the modern campaign era, appointed Senators have won their subsequent elections at a staggering 68.75% rate.


Even more significantly, the last seven candidates appointed to the Senate who subsequently ran for re-election all won their elections. Republicans, Democrats, rural state Senators, urban state Senators all have won after appointment. 

Parker and Saldin might have aggregate numbers correct, but their interpretation ignores a clear historical trend favoring Senators who are appointed and then subsequently run for office. Even campaign managers for other candidates agree.

If Steve Bullock wants to increase the odds of Democrats holding on to Montana’s Senate seat and Democratic control of the U.S. Senate, appointing John Walsh to replace Max Baucus is the most sensible strategic move.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • How can this hurt Bullock? Will anyone remember this in 3 years or even care? I mean sure, Walsh is the #1 pick, but is there any reason for Bullock to do different? Jeez, I’m having a hard time thinking of one, but I’ll try:

    Shows he’s independent of his party;
    Let’s Walsh prove he can do it alone;
    He could ask Montanans what they want.

    That’s about it for now.

    • I don’t see any downside for Bullock. Even though Republicans might try to paint it as some kind of back room dealing, it’s a constitutional power possessed by the governor.

      Appointing a placeholder makes no sense.

  • Would Walsh want to be appointed to the Senate? That’s the question no one is asking, because everyone assumes he would accept the appointment.

    I’m not so sure he will accept the appointment, assuming Baucus goes to Beijing. Working in Washington would reduce the amount of time Walsh could campaign in Montana. Republicans would work to make him look ignorant and foolish, and trap him into casting no-win votes. I’m not even sure it would be an advantage in the primary.

    If Walsh wants to come across as a statesman, and as a self-starter who wants to win on his own, fair and square, he’ll tell Bullock to appoint a credible caretaker who won’t embarrass Democrats or Montana.

    • Sure, there are downsides for Walsh, but I think the benefits outweigh the costs. For one thing, he’ll be able to define himself to Montana voters through votes and public policy in Washington, in addition to his campaign. Since 2006, Montana voters have been inclined to vote for Democratic senators and I suspect the positions Walsh will take in D.C. will only help him with the electorate.

  • Why do you consider 1990 the start of the modern campaign era? Why not mid-70’s after the first campaign finance laws were passed?

    At any rate, Walsh will benefit from being appointed because he will suddenly have access to more money and more stature as a sitting Senator. But the downside is that he will have to actually DO SOMETHING in the public eye, which he has so far been shielded from. Adjutant General? No one knows what the heck he does. Lt. Governor? Ditto. In fact, not even the Lt. Governor knows what he does.

    Assuming he is appointed by summer time, he will have two months of tough votes before the August recess. Then he will have September-October tough votes, knowing full well that Harry Reid will try to shield his caucus from tough votes that could hurt their re-election chances. By that I mean anything that favors the Obama agenda. Along the way, Walsh will do a large number of stupid things and cause embarrassing headlines. His handlers will do their very best to shield him from the voters because he’s a total klutz. Not the way to win an election.

    My prediction is the campaign to draft Pat Williams is just starting. Why? Almost no one in the Democratic Party ever knew Walsh before last year, and they don’t have any loyalty to him. Sure they have loyalty to Bullock to a point, but this is about more than just winning this race or following the Governor. This is about a generation of frustrated Democrats who spent decades wondering when ol’ Max was going to hang it up and give someone else a shot at the Senate. Now that he finally has, why should they step aside and let a new kid on the block be appointed? This is particularly so because by now everyone has realized Walsh is not the sharpest tool in the shed. I mean, he’s in over his head as Lt. Governor; one can only imagine the coming attractions of “I heart boobs” errors he will commit as US Senator.

    I say let Pat Williams get the gold retirement watch. He knows his way around and he can push unapologetically for the liberal Obama agenda. Walsh is not going to win, whether appointed or not. Truthfully, how many Democrats really want him to win? I don’t know of many. Get six months of die-hard liberalism out of your US Senator, the kind of dedicated team play you never got from Max.

    • You think the ’70s is the beginning of modern day campaigns? Read some history. The groundwork for how the modern day campaign is run came from the 90s.

      Furthermore you’re wrong about pushing a die-hard liberal agenda. When was a die-hard liberal agenda pushed leading up to an election? Also, appointing Williams WOULD be damaging to Bullock.

    • American politics has always been extremely corrupt with bribery as common as leaves on the ground in autumn. But I would start the modern era of finance in 1974, Buckley vs Valeo, which essentially ruled that money = speech. That put a sheen of legitimacy on the corruption, allowing regulation of campaign contributions, but ruling that any person could spend as much of his own funds as desired for his own election.

      The idea that private bribes are Ok is so deeply ingrained that there will be no fix in the near future. Who is going to fix it? The bribees?

      • Thats the Biggest mouthful of codswallop I have heard you Mark in some time! A person could mortar a 3 bedroom house with those bricks. Mind explaining the equivalencies between parties please? Maybe adding a little more detail?

        Just saying! the “Everybodys doing it” Quote is kinda old, and without evidence.

        • I was almost tempted to answer you. Your use of the word “evidence,” even as the people you support are up to their necks in private bribes, is enough for me. Go away.

  • It just makes no sense not to put Walsh in the seat. Is someone actually gonna tell me the republicans all of a sudden have a sense of fair play??? Really? after all the crap they have done in our state house and on the national stage. the Governors job was won fair an square by Bullock in the last election! He has every right no matter who screams foul, to put in who he wants.

    The GO to guy here is and should be Walsh. Enough of the placeholders, this is why bolinger isn’t really a democrat he would be cheering that selection, not asking someone else to warm the seat.

    Go for Walsh, Gov Steve!

  • Anyone that thinks we SHOULDn’t put Walsh in that seat just doesn’t get it.

    This idea that the egomaniac that is Pat Williams should get the post is insane. Pat doesn’t know his way around the Senate anymore than any other Montanan. The man served decades ago, couldn’t hold a statewide seat, and has been rubbing out his ego ever since.

    Walsh is the way to go.

    • Everyone has a right to run and I think we should only encourage more to do so, especially our young people that are feeling sickened and turned off by the whole political process, something that will last for most of their lives. With all of the old dying in this state it’s not only a wise choice, it’s a necessity.

      Strong and vibrant debate, especially when headache-inducing and hackle-rising, is what both the Democratic and Republican parties in this state need, always have and always will. Fewer people running only ensures that doesn’t happen.

  • I’m sorry Bolinger isn’t a Democrat he is a Dino shoving to the front of the line, because he thinks he someone important.

    Just becoming one overnight because your party flew so far to the right…. doesn’t make you a democrat by saying it. For Goodness sake I have never seen so many people think they can change their stripes by putting a “D” behind their name…. and yet they keep writing the most whacked comments about the nuances of our party I have ever seen. Did they ever think to read our parties platform, before opening their mouths, any of them?

    I applaud the guy for knowing his party has become insane and hypocritical, but he hasn’t done anything yet to prove, to the new company he keeps, he would vote for a more progressive agenda along our party lines.

    And with all the shenanigans I have seen from Republicans including eating their own….It wouldn’t surprise me, he is hiding from that very fate of being Eaten by mingling with in the Democratic crowd for Camouflage.

    Lastly Using Bob Brigham as a campaign staffer? Well that kinda proves my point. the man has stabbed more dems in the back than Jack the ripper… just saying.

    • I’ve been waiting for the manifesto of party purity. Perhaps this above is the introduction.

      In a two party system, it makes perfect sense to leave your party and join the other if your party has become bull-goose (duck?) bonkers. That should be especially true of the party seeking advance, the party with the pretense of a ‘big tent’. But perhaps you are correct. The Democrats should have a purity test as well. Maybe we could make Bohlinger wear a scarlet “R” until he proves himself worthy in OUR sight.

      • I get your point, Rob, but Bohlinger didn’t leave the Republican Party until this year. He didn’t leave after the Iraq debacle, the emergence of the TEA Party, the nomination of Sarah Palin as the Vice President, or any number of other things.

        It’s more than a bit opportunistic for him to make the switch now.

          • Its only a conspricy since I said it first…. that the kind of conspiracy you talking about Rob!

            Democrats don’t have a purity test. Its always been more of a soup line, without having to listen to a preacher( though you can pray to whoever you want for grace before eating).

            For a guy who filed a couple of months ago, to be a Democrat, should we make sure he gets to shove himself to the front of the line, before others to get food? Really??

            Example: Amanda Curtis, Has been a Democrat long before John, should we serve him first????

          • I kind of chuckle, Don, that you hang the Iraq War on the Republicans. The Democrats ran against that war in 2006, and won the House, and then continued to fund it despite their campaigns. Obama, once elected, carried out Bush’s 2009 SOFA but tried his very best to keep US troops there, to no avail. The current terrorist campaigns in Iraq likley originate in Langley and London, meaning that that Iraq War is not yet won and is ongoing.

            There are no differences between the parties in foreign policy even if they talk it up during campaigns, and that is my best evidence.

            A two-party system is a natural byproduct of money – two is all the oligarchy needs to air their various differences. And there are differences – there are people in our ruling classes that believe in development of the common people and conservation of the commons and in a greater good. At this point, that faction, best personified by the Kennedy’s, appears AWOL.

            Public financing* of elections would likely yield a breakup of the existing party structure, with the Republicans withering away and the Democrats splitting into its two blocs – it’s right wing and center-right as exist uncomfortably right now.

            There would also emerge a third party (along with many minor splinter groups that don’t gain traction). The third party would be a minority one and progressive, and at its best advantage would have enough power to be able to force a favorable public policy or two out of the two big parties., That’s the best progressives can hope for in a right wing business-run country like this.
            *Public financing alone will not work to remedy our problems – we also need procreational representation. Winner-take-all is hardly practiced anywhere else in the world but here, and is a huge defect in our system.

            • Good stuff. The media wages a fear campaign against third parties and the main parties don’t dissuade people from believing it. If I were an R or a D I’d be afraid of them too – they often don’t take bribes and kickbacks.

              If you go knock on everyone’s door in your district and talk to them, explain that you can’t run for a party because they take money from corporations, I think they’ll listen and you can convince them. It’s cheaper than traditional advertising and more effective. People will remember that guy standing in their living room a lot longer than they’ll remember that guy spouting hate and fear from the tube.

              That scares the parties a lot, and that’s one of their main selling points, both of them, fear. When people are afraid it’s easy to get them to do what you want, and Americans love being afraid. Why else would we continue with that emotional train of destruction for more than a decade? But it’s more of an emotional strain, and people are sick of being afraid. No one likes a scaredy-cat.

              • We did the door knocking in 2000, but the counterattack by the Democrats was so ferocious that a swell which at one point was at nearly 15% was reduced to 3%, and then frightened to near extinction by the apparent bellicosity of the Bushies subsequently. That man did more for the Democrats than they could do for themselves, scaring them silly. (That function, scaring them, is now done by the Tea Party, which functions to keep Democrats in their party and compliant.)

                Democrats shot themselves in the foot by allowing their extreme right to remove Howard Dean from contention by means of PSYOP and then putting up the bland and ineffectual Kerry, and then refusing to resist election fraud even as Kerry, essentially himself a Neocon, pulled it off, only to meekly yield to the counting machines.

                So due to that we now have two parties that are barely different, Democratic boundaries patrolled by the Tea Party (which also gives Obama political cover to carry on with an essentially NeoCon agenda, slightly modified in the tax area) an in addition a highly unreliable and easily undermined vote counting system. Witness Wisconsin politics since Walker took office.

                So as bad have things have been, they are still very bad indeed. I fail to see where casting a ballot amidst all this corruption is in the least bit useful. Corruption of this magnitude can only be removed by peaceful but mass resistance, and I don’t see that in a dumbed down population any time soon. There was a spark in OWS, but Obama crushed it violently and thoroughly.

  • The sooner Walsh is on the state and national stage, the sooner everyone will realize he is a bungling moron. So fine with me if Bullock appoints him.

    • The great thing about attacking Dennis Rehberg and Conrad Burns as idiots over the years on this blog was the copious evidence they provided to support that assertion.

      It’d be nice if people who want to make claims like that would provide some evidence.

  • While, in my heart, I’d love to see Pat (or Carol) Williams, or Denise juneau, appointed to the seat (they’d all be progressive voters on bills — assuming any real progressive bills ever came up), in my mind, I know Walsh should be appointed. Sure, he’d play it safe in his votes but he’d get a helluva lot more exposure than he’s getting now.

    Some things I disagree with in the comments above: Pat Williams knows his way around the Senate — he dealt with that body as a congressman for what, 20 years? And I don’t know much about John Walsh but from what little I’ve heard, he isn’t a “bungling moron.”

  • While, in my heart, I’d love to see Pat (or Carol) Williams, or Denise juneau, appointed to something befitting their many years of service this senate seat isn’t one of them.

    Walsh needs that seat!

    That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to them more. There experience needs to be shared More. Pat should have been allowed on the college board but we Democrats fucked that up…. and I know Carol for all her years of service should at least be the #1 pick as our ambassador to this state, for the nation.

    Denise we really need in the spot she is now. I think she is the best candidate to fix our crumbling rural schools, while fighting back the tide of ill staffed religious private schools. and bringing forth and implementing CORE standards. But down the road we need to get her to higher office

    And We also have young folk who deserve to speak their frankness: Amanda Curtis, Ellie Hill, Bryce Bennett to name just a few. I see great progressivism coming from these smart young people.

    But to tell you the truth, our party is too slow, and lots of folk who have spots within the party are not ambitious, or too Old to embrace change. Frankly they should be out on their butts with Bolinger a man who hasnt proved he follow our platform……

    Its like a valve gets turned off after each election in this state. We as Democrats are behind because we close the doors, and stick a “Gone fishing sign” up. To me thats a WTF moment.

    I’ve witnessed and worked for places with all year energy elsewhere. This party is nothing like California’s party, or New York, or New Jersey who rally causes all year( I am talking state not national groups). Bryce Bennett’s group is one of the only I have seen who work all year. Hellgate Anglers and Hunters another, and it needs to be all of us fighting all year round. Every county, every non profit needs there voice heard better than it is now

    Sometimes, I just don’t see it us as serious a bunch of Democrats as it should be. Lets face it our party had a chance to allow Amanda keep her current district and pretty much gave it away. That’s right our party took Amanda’Curtis’s Place in Democratic Party away with Gerrymandering districts from our side of the Isle. Just when we need her, she hasn’t a district anymore to fight for???? Really?

    Sometimes even our soup line of picking people in this state fails us!

    We are not paying enough attention to the stars in our party. We have too many folk without backbone, and a lot of Naysayers, tons of them in fact!!!!!

    Kinda one of the many reasons I push and if need be….Run whenever possible. I might be clumsy at it, but hey at least I try.

    Oh by the way, the Democratic Party in this state refuses to have conversations or find people to run in in highly Red Areas, Turner and I ran last time with little, if no support from the state party in Beaverhead county, Though I must say the State Dem candidates were great to us… It didn’t matter to us we were punked by Party officials, because we know how our Party works elsewhere in the Nation, and our communities Dems were very happy to help were they could, they wanted voices too.

    If we are gonna get more competitive as a party someone has to take an oar in the back of the boat and start pulling. We figured it was our duty as Democrats to do so….

    Compare that, to those who haven’t got the guts, because they would fail, or don’t even have the credentials or experience to try. The clowns who call us names for trying, didn’t have the guts to run themselves…. another reason I like Walsh is no one had his back in the beginning either. Now he is Lt, governor and heading to the senate because he has the the “Try” Gene, plus a backbone..

    Something a lot of these Democratic Naysayers are lacking.

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