Peter Welch Won't Run For Governor; Clears Way For Contested Democratic Primary
Congressman Peter Welch announced Friday morning that he has opted against a run for governor, and will instead seek reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives. And his early exit from the gubernatorial field means a wide open race in 2016.
Perhaps the only thing more surprising than Gov. Peter Shumlin’s announcement earlier this month that he wouldn’t run for a fourth term was the fact that Welch was considering a run to replace him.
“The question for me was, where could I best advance what has been my lifelong commitment to building and economy for the middle class?” Welch said during a conference call with Vermont reporters Friday morning.
After a couple weeks of deliberation, Welch has concluded that the answer is Washington, D.C. Even as a member of the Democratic minority in the U.S. House, the fourth-term congressman says he’s amassed the bipartisan goodwill needed to advocate effectively for his constituents back home.
“Vermonters have nine years invested in me. I’ve used those years to maintain and build relationships, and it’s those relationships much more than seniority these days that make a difference in your ability to be effective,” Welch said.
Welch’s candidacy would have been a field-clearing affair, in the Democratic primary at least.
"The question for me was, where could I best advance what has been my lifelong commitment to building and economy for the middle class?" - Rep. Peter Welch
Former state senator Matt Dunne said Friday that Welch “would have made a superb governor.” House Speaker Shap Smith, meanwhile, said he had enough faith in Welch’s leadership abilities that “I would have been willing to defer to his desire to run for governor.”
Now that Welch is out, however, Smith and Dunne are back to contemplating in earnest a run for the state’s top elected office. And former state representative and current Transportation Secretary Sue Minter on Friday afternoon added her name to the list of Democrats publicly weighing bids for governor.
Former Secretary of Human Services Doug Racine, who twice ran unsuccessfully for governor, said Friday he was among the people urging Welch to run. Now that he’s not, Racine says he too is seriously considering a bid.
“It was sort of on hold waiting for Congressman Welch,” Racine said. “Now that he’s not running, I’m deciding whether this is the right race for me.”
Democrats weren’t the only ones keeping tabs on Welch.
"To say I haven't been watching it wouldn't be honest. But it has not affected my decision one way or the other." - Lt. Gov. Phil Scott
“To say I haven’t been watching it wouldn’t be honest,” said Lt. Gov. Phil Scott. “But it has not affected my decision one way or the other.”
Scott is the highest-profile Republican on the list of his party’s possible gubernatorial candidates. Scott says he’s giving himself until this fall to make a decision, and that chief among the hurdles is figuring out to how resolve his ownership in a construction business that often bids for state transportation projects.
“How do I disassociate myself with the business for a period of time? Who do I put in my place, so to speak? And how do I create this sort of firewall of trust so that I can step away and have faith that somebody else would carry the business on?” Scott said.
Other Republican possibilities include businessman Scott Milne, the political unknown who nearly defeated Shumlin last November, and former state auditor Randy Brock, who has remained a vocal critic of the Shumlin administration, especially on its handling of Vermont Health Connect.
Dan Feliciano, the Libertarian-turned-Republican who got a little more than 4 percent of the vote last November, is also mulling a bid.
While Welch’s exit may have created an opening for some up-and-comers, it also means Democrats will have to fight harder to retain their grip on the state’s top elected post.
While Welch's exit may have created an opening for some up-and-comers, it also means Democrats will have to fight harder to retain their grip on the state's top elected post.
Megan Remmel, a professor of political science at Norwich University, says the prospect of a Republican takeover in a blue state like Vermont will be a tempting one for national Republicans. And she says groups like the Democratic Governors Association will have to up their game as a result.
“I think they’re going to need to be much more involved in this 2016 gubernatorial race than they probably have been in the past and assuming that it’s just going to stay in Democratic hands,” Remmel said.
Welch said he didn’t conduct any polling prior to coming to a decision. He said thinks he would have won the race for governor, had he decided to pursue it, and that his political skill set would have been a good one for the executive post.
While he doesn’t always enjoy life on the road in D.C., Welch said that his sway with Republican colleagues will help improve the state’s standing in fiscal and policy deliberations in Congress.
Minter, Smith, Dunne and Racine will be courting many of the same business leaders, labor unions and political power brokers as they seek to galvanize a winning coalition for the Democratic primary.
Racine, who along with Dunne was part of a five-way Democratic primary in 2010, said he’ll balance the personal and political as he mulls his options.
"I've gotten a very good feedback, a lot of encouragement. I need to have some final conversations with my family before I make a decision either way.” - House Speaker Shap Smith
“Is this is a winnable race for me? Are there other candidates in there who are thinking about it? I have to evaluate that, and I’m talking to a number of people,” Racine said.
Dunne said he’ll continue conversations with former political allies, business leaders and his family, “to make sure that we are ready to share a vision for where Vermont can go in the future.”
Smith said that he’s been heartened by the exploratory process thus far, and that he intends to make a decision “soon.”
“I’ve gotten a very good feedback, a lot of encouragement,” Smith said. “I need to have some final conversations with my family before I make a decision either way.”
This post has been updated to include further reporting.