What will changes in congressional delegation mean for Vt. representation?

With turnover in Vermont's U.S. House and Senate seats, new candidates will have to spend years becoming established in Washington
Published: Aug. 10, 2022 at 9:59 AM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - With Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy set to retire later this year, his years of experience and seniority at the Capitol are leaving with him.

Leahy chairs the critical Senate Appropriations Committee, making him in charge of the purse strings and helping to steer millions of dollars in funding and programs to the Green Mountain state.

Ellen Andersen, a political science professor at the University of Vermont, says Vermont will feel the loss of that clout. If Peter Welch wins the Senate seat in November, he would come into the job with an understanding of how legislation works, but Andersen says he would still need to learn what she considers the folkways of the Senate.

The Republican candidate, Gerald Malloy, would have to build more credibility, something that will also take time. But Andersen says that there is also a vote on the line beyond money and institutional power. “The sheer fact of a Democrat or a Republican winning, right, we are going to lose money from Washington with Leahy’s retirement, we just are no matter who takes his place. But the winner of the race here is going to play a determining role in who controls the Senate and which party controls the Senate,” Andersen said.

She does note that Vermont does still have Sen. Bernie Sanders but she describes the role that he serves as different from Welch. Sanders often keeps himself out of the institutional power arrangements in the Senate but has immense power in his own right in forcing the body to take up issues they might not otherwise.

Andersen also notes that Malloy faces an uphill battle in taking on Welch.

When it comes to the U.S. House race, the recent UNH poll commissioned by WCAX provided insight into the possibility of a Becca Balint victory. According to Andersen, Balint’s success could come down to Vermonters valuing hard work and commitment.

She says that Molly Gray’s position as lieutenant governor brought significant name recognition while Balint leaned on experience and on her time navigating the halls of the Statehouse. Andersen says primary voters may not have liked that Gray used her office as a springboard for Congress before the end of her first term and that Vermont voters tend to reward experience. “For some Vermonters -- of the sort of those that pay attention enough to vote in primaries -- that feels very dismissive of Vermont, and it’s really hard to be dismissive that way of Becca Balint,” Andersen said.

She says paying dues is one important principle of Vermont politics -- the other being not to attack your opponent. She also says those who tend to vote in primaries in either party are not the mirror image of those who vote in general elections.

Andersen also believes that GOP candidate Liam Madden has an uphill battle taking on Balint and that he needs to start with name recognition.

From the two new congressional seats to the score of statewide offices, Andersen describes this election cycle as a generational political earthquake that Vermont hasn’t seen for a while. “It’s an unprecedented opportunity for young, talented politicos in Vermont to move into positions of real authority in the state and in the Congress,” Andersen said.

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