Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) announced Friday that Lt. Gov. John Walsh (D) will fill the seat of departing Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.).
Baucus was confirmed as the next ambassador to China on Thursday. The White House tapped him for the job late last year, months after he announced he would retire at the end of his current term.
"I couldn’t have asked for a better partner and Montanans – just like they were when he returned home from Iraq – can be proud of the work John Walsh has done for them," Bullock said. "But today, my friend and colleague embarks on a new mission: I introduce to you Sen. John Walsh."
Walsh is the Democratic frontrunner in the race to replace Baucus. By appointing Walsh to the seat, Bullock will afford him the advantages of incumbency: Greater visibility and name recognition, better access to donors, as well a chance to establish a voting record.
Walsh will need it. Rep. Steve Daines is the likely GOP nominee, giving Republicans a solid recruit in the state, which leans conservative. The Fix recently rated Baucus's seat as the third most likely to flip party control in the 2014 election.
Before reaching the general election, though, Walsh will have to get by another former lieutenant governor, John Bohlinger, who is also running. Bohlinger served under the previous governor, Brian Schweitzer.
Walsh, 53, is a former adjutant general in the Montana National Guard. He ran for and won his first political office in 2012, running on the same ticket as Bullock.
In his remarks Friday, he emphasized his lack of political experience and said he will go to Washington to fight against career politicians who have lost touch with their constituents.
“Sen. Baucus does leave big boots to fill," Walsh said. "I know that working with Sen. Tester and Congressman Daines, we can meet those challenges."
Updated at 12:22 p.m.