Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) formally began his campaign Monday to replace retiring Senate President pro tempore Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who announced last week that he would not seek re-election for a ninth term.
Welch, 74 — who was first elected to the House in 2006 and previously served as the Democratic leader of the Vermont Senate — cited climate change and combating the COVID-19 pandemic as his reasons for seeking higher office.
“I’m running for the United States Senate to work for you, for Vermont, for our country, and for our imperiled democracy,” he tweeted.
“We are at a pivotal moment,” Welch said in a separate statement. “Vermont families are struggling through multiple crises: a global pandemic, the consequences of climate change, and a racial reckoning generations in the making.”
Welch was elected to an eighth term as Vermont’s lone member of the House of Representatives last year, winning 67.3 percent of the vote. Soon after his Monday announcement, he received the backing of Vermont’s other US senator, the socialist Bernie Sanders.
“@WelchForVT understands that now is the time to think big, not small,” Sanders tweeted. “Peter has the knowledge and experience to fight for a government that works for all, not just the wealthy few.”
The head of the Vermont Republican Party described Welch in a statement as a “relic of the past.”
“[N]ow is the time for Vermonters to choose a candidate with an eye on the future, and Vermont Republicans will provide voters with options for a future that works — not one that continues us down the path of Welch’s ‘Imperiled Democracy,’” said state GOP Chair Paul Dame.
Republicans face long odds of making either the House or the Senate race competitive in the Green Mountain State. GOP Gov. Phil Scott has already ruled out a run for Leahy’s Senate seat.
The last senator from Vermont elected as a Republican was Jim Jeffords, who left the GOP in June 2001 — less than a year after he was elected to his third and final term — and became an independent who caucused with the Democrats.
Meanwhile, Democratic Vermont state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale announced that she would be “deeply exploring” a bid to replace Welch in the House. Vermont is the only state that has yet to elect a woman to Congress.
The last Republican elected to the House from Vermont was Peter Smith, who accomplished the feat in 1988, only to lose his re-election bid to Sanders two years later.
With Post wires