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Montana Dems scramble to find new Senate nominee after plagiarism scandal

Montana Democrats are scrambling to find a replacement candidate who will give them a fighting chance against Republicans in November’s midterm election after incumbent Sen. John Walsh dropped out of the race in the wake of a plagiarism scandal.

The state’s Democrats will meet Saturday morning to nominate and likely announce their new party candidate, who will face GOP challenger Rep. Steve Daines and Libertarian candidate Roger Roots in the general election three months from now.

The Montana Democratic Party’s Central Committee, which includes around 175 members from across the state, has until Aug. 20 to officially declare a new nominee. However, FoxNews.com is told they will most likely announce the nominee Saturday.

Several names have been floated as possible replacements for Walsh. They include: Nancy Keenan, the former head of NARAL Pro-Choice America; former Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger; and former Gov. Brian Schweitzer. 

Bohlinger has said he'd accept the nomination under certain conditions -- namely, that state Democrats robustly support him, with money and volunteers. 

Schweitzer, though, claims he's not interested. He already was in trouble following controversial comments he made in a National Journal article about former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who he said set off his “gaydar,” and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, whom Schweitzer compared to a sex worker. 

Other Democrats reportedly in the running for Walsh’s seat include first-term state lawmaker Rep. Amanda Curtis and rancher Dick Adams. State Sen. David Wanzenried had been in the running but reportedly is dropping his bid. 

Whether Democrats can find someone who gives Daines a real run remains to be seen. Montana’s Senate contest was widely seen as an uphill battle for Democrats even before Walsh dropped out. 

"I think it was a tough race to start with," Patrick Griffin, a professor at the School of Public Affairs at American University, told FoxNews.com. "The odds were 50-50, a very tight situation, if everything went perfectly, which we now know did not." 

Daines, the GOP challenger, had been ahead in most statewide polls by about 10 points prior to the plagiarism allegations and is now considered the overwhelming front-runner in the race. A Daines win in November would help Republicans' ambitious push for control of the U.S. Senate. 

Montana Democrats will sort out their plan on Saturday. 

“We look forward to bringing Montanans from across the state to select our Democratic Senate nominee,” Jim Larson, chairman of the Montana Democratic Party, said in a written statement. 

Lately, there's been talk about getting actor and longtime Montana resident Jeff Bridges on the ballot. As of Friday morning 1,684 signatures had been collected in an online petition to get Bridges, who played “The Dude” in “The Big Lebowski” and countless other roles, to sign on as the next Democratic candidate. “Facial hair” was among the reasons why some thought Bridges should be on the ballot. 

But The Dude does not abide. Bridges, asked about his political aspirations during a recent interview on Howard Stern’s radio show, said his wife nixed the idea.

“There’s a group of people that have called in and want me to run for senator of Montana, like 1,000 people,” Bridges told Stern on Monday. “And I said, ‘Sue?’ And she looks at me and says, ‘Don’t even think about it.’” 

Walsh officially dropped out of the race Aug. 7 after being dogged by allegations he lifted parts of his master’s thesis. The New York Times first reported the use of un-attributed material in his paper. Walsh initially called it an “unintentional mistake,” but the Iraq veteran later told The Associated Press that part of the problem might be post-traumatic stress disorder -- and then added he wasn't blaming PTSD. 

Republicans need a net gain of six seats to gain the majority next year. Montana, Arkansas, Alaska, Colorado, Louisiana and North Carolina are among the states polls indicate are most likely in danger of flipping from blue to red. 

Griffin said the "silver lining" for Montana Democrats would be to use the opportunity to lay down a foundation for an up-and-coming politician.

Calls to Walsh’s office for comment were not returned. Walsh has not publicly endorsed anybody to replace him. 

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