On March 8, 2012, Steve Bullock's then two-month-old gubernatorial campaign rolled out a video introducing his new running mate: Brigadier General John Walsh. The two stood side-by-side, flanked by the American and Montana flags, talking about getting things done for the state. In a few short seconds, Bullock hit the highlights of Walsh's three-decade military career before turning the announcement over to Walsh himself.
"Today," Walsh told the camera, "I'm embarking on a new mission. I know it won't be easy, but important missions rarely are."
Naming Walsh as his prospective lieutenant governor seemed like a fairly brilliant move by Bullock. As the leader of the Montana National Guard and a decorated Iraq War veteran, Walsh could appeal to vets statewide in a way Bullock, then the state's attorney general, could not. The Democratic duo claimed victory at the polls that fall, defeating Republicans Rick Hill and Jon Sonju by roughly 7,500 votes. Walsh had officially gone from soldier to politician.
But the mission wasn't over, and not 10 months after assuming office, Walsh released a video announcement of his own. With Max Baucus retiring from the U.S. Senate, and with former Gov. Brian Schweitzer refusing to run for the seat in 2014, Walsh set his sights on Washington, D.C.
"Oh, I'm sure I'll be accused of being naïve," Walsh said in declaring his Senate candidacy. "That a boy turned soldier, not really a politician, can make a difference back there. It's idealistic."
Naiveté was the least of the accusations Walsh's abrupt political leap-frogging would attract. Within months he was responding to questions about a 2010 U.S. Army inspector general report claiming he'd improperly used his position for private gain. He rebounded in February when Bullock named him to replace Baucus, who left office early as the new U.S. ambassador to China. The appointment was decried by his Republican opponent, Rep. Steve Daines, as "The Big Sky Buy Off," a backroom deal hatched by D.C. Dems, but Walsh had still arrived on yet a bigger stage.
Walsh swept the primary, and was slowly gaining ground in the polls—until his campaign flamed out this month amid revelations that he'd plagiarized the final paper for his master's degree at the U.S. Army War College in 2007. Walsh officially quit the race Aug. 7, leaving the Montana Democratic Party 13 days to name a replacement for the November ballot.
Walsh called it in 2012: His was an important mission. It wasn't easy. And now it's over.