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Sexual Harassment Charges Fly in Daines-Walsh Montana Senate Race

Sen. John Walsh (D), facing allegations of allowing sexual harassment in the latest TV ad from the Republican who wants his seat in the Senate, is fighting back with his own TV ad.

Rep. Steve Daines’ campaign ad titled “Mistreated,” which was released June 20, features Army Reserve Major Cindy Neely saying former Adjutant Gen. Walsh had a pattern of mistreating women who, like herself, served under him.

“I served our country in Iraq, then in the Montana National Guard under John Walsh. I feel I owe it to every woman in Montana to speak out. Under John Walsh, women like me were mistreated. There are pending lawsuits charging harassment, and I experienced discrimination personally. John Walsh looked the other way to protect his own career, and women suffered. John Walsh is not fit for office.”

Walsh enlisted in the Montana Army National Guard after graduating from high school in 1979 and served for 33 years.

He led the 1st Battalion, 163rd Infantry Regiment in combat in Iraq and was awarded a Bronze Star along with the Combat Infantryman Badge. That was the largest deployment of Montana soldiers since World War II.

Walsh was appointed to his Senate seat after President Obama appointed Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to be the nation’s ambassador to China.

He is fighting the battle of an underdog to hold on to his position in the Senate. A survey of Montana voters released June 12 by Rasmussen Reports showed Daines had an 18-point lead over Walsh.

Walsh fought back against the Daines ad, quickly releasing “No Tolerance” featuring another woman who served under him in Iraq, former Montana National Guard Sgt. Kelly Cogley Gallinger.

“Congressman Daines is attacking John Walsh’s decorated 33-year record – it’s nothing more than a lie,” Gallinger says in No Tolerance. “I served with John. He doesn’t tolerate misconduct, period… Congressman Daines, Montanans, and John Walsh deserve better than your false ads.”

The TV ad also says Walsh promoted Nikki DeWolf to the rank of colonel – the second woman promoted to the rank in Montana National Guard history.

And Gallinger tells the camera that Walsh is also “fighting for a tough new law cracking down on sexual assault in the military.”

Gallinger is a member of the group known as the “Walsh Warriors,” a coalition of veterans dedicated to combating what they are calling the “swiftboat" attacks from the Daines campaign, a reference to the ads attacking John Kerry’s service in Vietnam when the then-senator ran against George W. Bush for president in 2004.

“When I served there was an institutionally based glass ceiling in the military limiting promotions for women because they couldn’t serve in combat roles,” Gallinger said. “John Walsh did everything he could to break through that glass ceiling and promote qualified and talented female soldiers.”

Walsh’s campaign office also said that Walsh fired an assistant adjutant general for engaging in a consensual but inappropriate relationship with a lower-ranked officer.

His campaign team, as part of his coordinated counter-attack, released a document showing that while Walsh was named as a defendant in two lawsuits brought by women against the Montana National Guard, his name was dropped in both cases by a judge, and those cases involved allegations of improper termination, not sexual harassment.

The day before the Daines team released its “Mistreated” ad, the Walsh campaign released an ad pointing to Walsh’s service in Iraq and Daines’ lack of military experience.

In this TV ad, an Iraq War veteran who also served with Walsh explains how Walsh stood up for National Guard service members who did not have proper equipment during their deployment.

Retired Staff Sgt. John Bennett of Cascade, Mont., was paralyzed when sniper fire punctured the shoddy plywood roof shielding on his National Guard Humvee.

“Congressman Steve Daines never served, so he probably doesn’t know that when the Montana National Guard went to Iraq, the Pentagon treated us like second-class soldiers,” Bennett says in the ad titled “Plywood.”

Walsh’s campaign staff said National Guard soldiers went to war in Iraq with substandard vehicles and equipment compared to their active-duty Army counterparts.

Walsh was elected to the position of vice chair for Army of the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS), where, as an unpaid volunteer, he advocated for better resources.

His campaign staff claims Walsh and NGAUS fought for increased funding for equipment – especially as the Army National Guard took on a greater role in homeland security missions abroad.

In 2005, only 40 percent of the required equipment was available to National Guard service members. After fighting for more funding, Army National Guard equipment levels are now at 90 percent.

As he motions to his wheelchair in the “Plywood” ad, Bennett concludes: “John Walsh went to bat for us. He ruffled feathers in Washington, making sure other Guard soldiers had the right equipment so other Montanans don’t have to spend the rest of their lives like this ever again.”

Ironically, if there is one issue on which Daines and Walsh agree, it is Iraq. Both have come out strongly against sending U.S. troops back into combat in that country.

In the U.S. House, Daines voted to prevent sending more American troops into Iraq on June 19.

The measure, which would prohibit the use of funds for conducting American combat missions in Iraq, was introduced as an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act by Democratic Representative Barbara Lee (Calif.).

"I strongly oppose sending more American troops to Iraq and believe only Iraqis can secure their future,” Daines said. “Iraqi leadership must address the concerns of their citizens from all sects and ethnicities, and Iraqi Security Forces must fight against al Qaeda-linked forces with urgency and resolve.”

Daines also voted for an amendment pronouncing that the 2002 Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq does not authorize new military operations in that country and has strongly insisted that the president closely consult with Congress and seek necessary authorization as decisions regarding the United States' role in Iraq are made.

Walsh, the only Iraq War combat veteran serving in the U.S. Senate, spoke on the floor June 18 and said it was time for Iraq to secure and defend its own nation and urged the president and Congress to remember the "costs of war."

“I stand here today as a veteran and the father of a veteran, and we fought in a war that Washington began based on false information – a war that ended and from which we must move on,” Walsh said. “I’ve seen war firsthand, and like too many Americans families, I’ve seen the costs of war up close. It is now time for the Iraqis to secure and defend their own nation."

(For complete 2014 midterm coverage, get your campaign fix on The Grid.)