HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said Thursday he had no knowledge that Sen. John Walsh had plagiarized his master's thesis when he appointed the former lieutenant governor to the Senate in February, and that he continues to support the Democrat's candidacy in 2014.
Bullock joined state and national Democrats with a statement supporting Walsh, whose apparent plagiarism was first reported Wednesday by The New York Times.
"Senator Walsh has a long history of fighting for Montanans, both at home and in combat," Bullock said. "He deserves respect for his courage on our behalf."
Walsh, the only senator who served in the Iraq war, is seeking election this November in a race that top Democratic strategists — prior to the plagiarism revelations — saw as an uphill battle and unlikely to provide one of the seats the party needs to hold onto their majority.
Walsh, Bullock and their Democratic colleagues have a short window in which to figure out whether the allegations could be too toxic for Walsh to win the Nov. 4 election against Republican Rep. Steve Daines.
A candidate has until Aug. 11 to withdraw from this year's contest, and the state party has until Aug. 20 to name a replacement candidate, Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch said Thursday. If Walsh decides to drop out after the ballots are certified on Aug. 21, a new candidate can't be appointed, and Walsh's name will stay on the ballot, she said.
For now, pulling out of the race doesn't appear to be an option the former National Guard general is considering. On Thursday, Montana Democratic Party spokesman Bryan Watt said Walsh "took responsibility" for his mistakes and the party looks forward "to standing and fighting with him."
"I don't really see it as having a negative impact on the campaign," Walsh said of the plagiarism allegations in an interview with The Associated Press late Wednesday. "Montanans are really pleased with what I am accomplishing back here (in Washington)."
Asked if Walsh was considering dropping out of the race, campaign spokeswoman Lauren Passalacqua said Thursday: "Absolutely not."
Bullock appointed Walsh in February when Democratic Sen. Max Baucus resigned to become ambassador to China. Republicans and some Democrats blasted the appointment, saying it was made without transparency and was designed to give Walsh a boost in the midterm elections.
Bullock spokesman Kevin O'Brien said the governor's 2012 campaign reviewed Walsh's public statements, records and spoke with individuals who served with Walsh before asking him to join the gubernatorial ticket.
"This didn't come up," O'Brien said of the plagiarism allegations.
The revelation that Walsh's 2007 U.S. Army War College thesis included a series of unattributed passages taken from the writings of other scholars is the second potentially damaging issue raised this year about the senator's 33-year military career, which has been a cornerstone of his campaign.
Walsh's military record was first questioned in January when records revealed the Army reprimanded him in 2010 for pressuring Guardsmen to join a private association for which he was seeking a leadership role.
"It goes right to his strength — his military record and his integrity," said Montana State University political science professor David Parker. "He was willing to take somebody's words and make them his own. That's a question of honor."
Walsh said that when he wrote the thesis, he had post-traumatic stress disorder from his service in Iraq, was on medication and was dealing with the stress of a fellow veteran's recent suicide.
"I don't want to blame my mistake on PTSD, but I do want to say it may have been a factor," Walsh said. "My head was not in a place very conducive to a classroom and an academic environment."
He said he didn't plagiarize but that his thesis contained "a few citations that were unintentionally left out."
Walsh submitted his thesis, titled "The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy," nearly two years after he returned from Iraq and about a year before he became Montana's adjutant general overseeing the state's National Guard and Department of Military Affairs.
The first page borrows heavily from a 2003 article in Foreign Affairs, while all six of the recommendations Walsh listed at the end of his paper are taken nearly word-for-word without attribution from a paper published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Another section is nearly identical to about 600 words from a 1998 paper published by a research institute at Harvard University.
Several messages left with the Carlisle, Pennsylvania, school were not immediately returned Thursday. The New York Times reported the college was launching an investigation into Walsh's work.