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Rep. Peter Welch to run for US Senate

Published: Nov. 22, 2021 at 6:00 AM EST|Updated: Nov. 22, 2021 at 6:21 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont’s lone congressman is asking voters for a promotion; Rep. Peter Welch announced Monday that he is running for U.S. Senate.

“My job is to serve Vermont and it’s one I would like to continue to do in the U.S. Senate,” said Welch, D-Vermont.

Exactly one week after Sen. Patrick Leahy announced he wouldn’t seek reelection, Welch launched hid bid for Leahy’s job, though he admits he can’t fill Leahy’s shoes.

“He can’t be replaced but someone has to fill that seat,” Welch said.

Leahy brought home the bacon, funneling an enormous amount of federal money to Vermont, in large part because of his seniority.

Welch, 74, was first elected to the U.S. House in 2006 and has amassed a fair amount of power in the House. But he starts on the backbench in the Senate if elected.

Reporter Darren Perron: Does this put Vermont at a disadvantage losing both you in the House and Leahy in the Senate?

Rep. Peter Welch: Vermont loses definitely not having Senator Leahy... Nobody can do what Senator Leahy did... but what is going to be helpful is I have the experience and relationships to hit the ground running. I will work with Senator Sanders to bring every single nickel we can find.

He’s got a long to-do list: affordable child care, cheaper health care and medicine, paid family leave, tackling climate change, protecting the reproductive rights of women, racial justice, and his top issue, he says is protecting the democracy that’s under attack.

“What we saw on January 6 with the violence to try to reverse the election is now being done more subtly in many legislatures across the country where there is an effort by Trump allies to take away the right of people to vote, and we can’t let that happen,” Welch said.

Welch says he expects a ton of outside money to pour into Vermont from the GOP to try to win this seat and shift the balance of power in Washington.

Political analyst Matt Dickinson, a political scientist at Middlebury College, tells me that’s only likely to happen if Republicans think they can win. And right now, the Republican pool is shallow.

Welch also talked about the razor-thin Democratic majority in the Senate and how he expects the GOP to pump a lot of money into his opponent’s race, whomever that may be. No one has come forward as a challenger and the Republicans’ best bet, Gov. Phil Scott, says he won’t run.

And we don’t yet know if Welch will face a primary challenge.

WHO WILL RUN FOR WELCH’S HOUSE SEAT?

Welch’s intent to seek Sen. Leahy’s seat has tipped off a political domino effect as lawmakers across the state prepare to launch their own bids for Welch’s seat in the House.

Democrats Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint and Chittenden County Sen. Kesha Ram-Hinsdale have all expressed interest in running.

We asked them about their plans for higher office.

“I’ll be taking some time with my family at the farm over Thanksgiving and we’ll make a decision after that,” Gray said.

“I’ll be making that decision in the next few days and weeks,” Balint said.

“I’m going to be doing a lot of listening to Vermonters and making the decision in the best way that I can during the holiday season,” Ram-Hinsdale said.

VERMONT POLITICAL LEADERS WEIGH IN ON HOW RACES MIGHT SHAPE UP

As those potential candidates mull over the decision on whether to run, former and current state leaders are looking at how the races might shape up.

“Now we are living in a time where there’s no question that women are qualified to run and to lead,” former Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin said.

Kunin speaks from experience as Vermont’s only female governor.

The Democrat says it’s time for a woman to take congressional office. Vermont remains the only state to never send a woman to Washington.

“We have really a wide choice of competent, qualified women who are ready to move on. The hard part is they might move into the same seat at the same time,” Kunin said.

No Republican has announced a plan to challenge Peter Welch in the Senate race, but Paul Dame, the chair of the Vermont Republican Party, says someone will run, especially when control of the Senate could come down to a single seat.

“It makes it more likely a Vermont Republican will get support from Republicans nationally or from other donors who see the value of getting involved in a race like this when every single Senate seat counts,” Dame said.

With Welch running for Senate, his House seat is up for grabs-- a rare vacancy that former Vermont Gov. and Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean expects will attract a lot of candidates and a lot of money.

“I think the other seat, the House seat, will be much more competitive. There will be a primary first of all, so you don’t know who is going to win that. So the Republicans will put somebody up; that’s a winnable seat,” Dean said.

However, Dean says it’s time for young people of both parties to move on past the division of the old guard in politics now.

“We just desperately need sensible, thoughtful young people who can put away all this anger and this baggage that they’ve got and pull the country back together again,” Dean said.

Vermont Democratic Party Chair Anne Lezak says they are looking forward to the future and are prepared to put all their energy behind keeping the two congressional seats Democratic.

“We have such a deep bench and so many talented leaders who are already well known and who will just be very attractive to voters,” Lezak said.

Welch said he will announce campaign events in the coming weeks.

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