By Sarah Mearhoff/VTDigger
The long-suspected rumors are true: Vermont’s U.S. Rep. Peter Welch is launching his campaign for the U.S. Senate.
The Democrat announced early Monday, Nov. 22, that after 14 years in the 435-member House of Representatives, he wants to jump to the more senior chamber, vying for the seat soon to be vacated by U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat.
If he prevails, Welch, 74, would represent Vermont in the 100-member Senate alongside U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent.
“We are at a pivotal moment,” Welch said in a written statement. “Vermont families are struggling through multiple crises: a global pandemic, the consequences of climate change, and a racial reckoning generations in the making. The result of this election will determine control of the Senate and with it, what we can accomplish for Vermont families.”
Leahy announced last week that he will retire at the conclusion of his current term in 2023 after nearly 50 years of service, triggering the first open seat in Vermont’s three-member congressional delegation since 2007 — when Welch first assumed his current seat in the House.
Should he win the Senate seat, Welch would follow in the footsteps of Sanders, who also rose from the House to the Senate when former Sen. Jim Jeffords retired in 2007.
Democrats currently hold a razor-thin 50-50 majority in the Senate. Welch stressed in his campaign launch that the result of Vermont’s Senate race “will determine control of the Senate and with it, what we can accomplish for Vermont families.”
“(E)verything — voting rights, Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, lowering prescription drug costs, reproductive justice, racial and economic justice, everything — gets filibustered and blocked by the Mitch McConnell Republicans in the Senate,” he said in his campaign ad. “They’re fighting for failure.”
By launching his Senate campaign, Welch opens the door for his current role as the state’s at-large representative in the U.S. House. No one has launched an official campaign, but Democratic rising stars Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, D-Windham, Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, and Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden, have signaled interest.
From across the aisle, Republican Gov. Phil Scott has said he has no desire to go to Washington.
Meanwhile, Balint, Gray and Ram Hinsdale have shown no appetite to challenge Welch in the Democratic primary for the Senate seat. Welch will have to withstand any challenges from within his party in a primary before moving on to the general election in November 2022.
The shuffling of Vermont’s political deck offers the state an opportunity to make history: Vermont has never sent a woman to Congress. Two open races in the state’s three-member congressional delegation could change that.