MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont voters have chosen U.S. Rep. Peter Welch in the Democratic Party primary Tuesday to replace retiring Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, who has held the seat since 1975 and was the last of Congress’s so-called Watergate babies.
Welch, the state’s lone member of the House of Representatives, easily defeated two little-known candidates to move on to the general election in November. During the years he has been in Congress, Welch has been one of Vermont’s top vote-getters and would be an odds-on favorite to win the general election.
Incumbent Republican Gov. Phil Scott also cruised to a his party’s primary victory, defeating two candidates as he seeks a fourth term. The lone candidate for the Democratic nomination is activist Brenda Siegel, of Newfane. Last fall she spent 27 nights sleeping on the steps of the Vermont Statehouse to highlight the state’s homelessness challenge.
The two leading Republican candidates vying to face off against Welch in the Senate race are Vermont’s former U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan and retired U.S. Army officer Gerald Malloy.
Both believe they can win the seat, although Vermont is considered by many to be one of the most liberal states in the country. No Republican has represented the state in Washington since 2001 when the late Sen. Jim Jeffords left the GOP to become an independent, switching control of the Senate from Republican to Democratic.
Welch’s decision to run for the Senate seat opens up his seat in the House, the first time since 2006 that there have been any openings in Vermont’s three-member congressional delegation. The two leading Democratic candidates are Lt. Gov. Molly Gray and state Senate President Pro Tempore, Becca Balint.
In deep blue Vermont it’s likely the winner of the Democratic House primary will win easily in November, erasing what some consider to be the blot on the liberal state’s reputation of only being represented by white men.
The two share similar policy views. Gray is the centrist candidate supported by the state’s Democratic establishment, including Leahy and former Democratic governors Howard Dean and Madeleine Kunin. Balint has support the progressive wing of the party in Vermont, including the state’s independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, and national progressive leaders such as Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Balint campaigned with Sanders late last month.
The two leading GOP candidates for the U.S. House nomination are Ericka Redic, of Burlington, and Liam Madden, a Marine Corps veteran from Bellows Falls.
Redic says that if elected she would focus on fighting inflation, illegal immigration, drug misuse and government overreach, particularly as it concerns vaccine mandates.
Madden, a non-traditional candidate in the Republican primary, says he’s an independent. He said he had thought of declining the nomination if he wins, until he learned that would allow the party to choose a replacement for the November ballot.
Elected to his first two-year term as governor in 2016, Scott has focused his time in office on making Vermont more affordable and working to attract more people to the state to counter a demographic trend of an aging population with a shrinking workforce and fewer school-age children.