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Peter Welch on his win in the race for U.S. Senate

Man in suit stands at podium with people behind him.
Laura Nakasaka
Vermont Public
Rep. Peter Welch won his race to become Vermont's next U.S. Senator with 68% of the vote.

Just after polls closed on Tuesday, Democrat Rep. Peter Welch was announced the winner in the race for the open U.S. Senate seat being vacated by longtime Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy.

Welch, who captured 68% of the vote, beat out army veteran, Republican Gerald Malloy. His win caps off a career in the U.S. House that began when he was first elected in 2006.

Vermont Edition co-host Connor Cyrus spoke with Welch the day after the election about his win and the future. Their conversation is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Connor Cyrus: How does it feel this morning?

Senator-elect Peter Welch: It feels good. You know, Vermont had a very big turnout, huge participation, very positive campaigns, and we worked hard. We loved doing our 14-county tour and meeting people where they live and using this opportunity to reconnect to Vermonters. So it was a wonderful, wonderful experience, as it always has when you get to meet Vermonters and talk to them about our future.

Does this win feel different now that you are headed into the Senate?

Well, it does. I mean, first of all, I've got to just acknowledge Sen. Leahy. I mean, I worked on his first campaign when I first came to Vermont in 1974, and he's been a person that has been a through line for us — 48 years of service and 48 years of integrity.

So, anyone who's going to succeed him, and it's me now, has to have a significant measure of humility. There's a high standard. And obviously, as the chair of the Appropriations Committee, he was able to do things that no one else could do for Vermont. But what I hope to do is continue to represent his values, listening more than you talk, doing things, being respectful of other people, and continuing to serve Vermont. So, I'm excited about that. I’m very blessed to have this opportunity.

It really seems that you took this campaign seriously — hitting the campaign trail hard, spending money on ads, and, as you said, getting out there. Did you feel more pressure to do so? And do you feel pressure now that you're one of 100 senators and not one of 435 representatives?

Well, I certainly certainly did not feel pressure about the campaign and getting out there and working hard. You know why? That's my job. If you are going to run for office, that's your job. And if you're not going to get out there and seek to earn the trust of people, no matter how long you've been in office, then don't seek the job. So, there was no pressure. That was my job.

Do you feel pressure now that you're one of 100 senators and not one of 435 representatives?

For me, it's not about pressure, it's about opportunity. The challenges that folks have now, I mean, inflation is a problem. High housing costs are just a wicked of burden on us in Vermont and around the country. Young families that have two kids are paying 30% of their income for childcare.

So, there's a lot of pressure. But the pressure that I am responding to is the pressure that's on everyday families in Vermont. And the opportunity for me is to have this position in the U.S. Senate to be able to work with our governor, Gov. Scott, our Legislature, and my colleagues to try to help — to help take some of that pressure off and have public policies that make it possible for Vermont families and Vermont businesses to be successful.

They're doing the hard work. They're the ones that face the real day-to-day pressure.

Your opponent in this race was Republican Army veteran Gerald Malloy, who was a more of a conservative kind of Republican than Vermont usually elects. And yet there has been a national surge and candidates who are further and further to the right who run under the GOP banner. I'm talking about the MAGA Republicans or the Trump-icans. Did running against someone like Malloy force you or your campaign to do things differently?

It really didn't. I want to just acknowledge what a special place Vermont is for all of us who live here. Think about this election. We have Gov. Scott, who won by over 70%. He got the top vote in the entire state. And my vote was close to his. And what other state is there where people split their ticket and made a decision to reelect the governor with a huge vote and then elect a Democrat to the U.S. Senate?

So, this is all about Vermonters making decisions on the basis of who they think best represents their values. But Vermont’s special. It really is. People should take a breath. All Vermonters should sit back and be proud of the kind of state we have. And you know Gov. Scott and I, getting the votes, is an indication that people are going to make their own decisions.

One of the things you talked about on the campaign trail was your wanting or willingness to save democracy and keep our democracy intact. Now that you're elected into the Senate, what are the first steps in ensuring our democracy?

Well, there's two things. One is the way you behave, and the way you act and the way you do democracy. And the second is legislation.

And the Vermont way is — and Sen. Leahy certainly embodied this — is that you listen, and then you try to find common ground, and you start out with mutual respect.

I have a story I told on the campaign trail, where at a town meeting years ago when I was having a battle with somebody about a budget issue, and I lost. And I was upset about it. Later that afternoon, the person that I was in big dispute with was coaching my son in hockey. And it just reminded me that, yes, we have our differences. But for the most part, all of us who are doing our best to make a difference — even if we have differences of opinion — are doing it because we want the well being of the state to be improved.

And that's the way I approach it in Washington, and it's actually been a reason why I've had real success on a lot of issues, getting Republican support. Like on broadband, like on help to save our cheese industry. And that's the way I'll continue to do it.

Second, on legislation, we've got to make sure people have a right to vote, their votes are counted and election results are accepted. And voting rights legislation that we passed in the House stalled in the Senate. My hope is we can bring it up, and just re-ensure that the safeguards are there, so that when you've got a stop to steal folks really interfering, in my view, with elections, the process, the counting, that that’s not allowed. Everybody has the right to vote. Everybody's vote should be counted.

And final question we just heard from Congresswoman-elect Becca Balint, who will be stepping into your position in the House. You've had that role since 2006. What advice do you are you giving her and what are those conversations sound like?

Well, Becca Balint doesn't need my advice. She's a really good candidate. She was Senate President Pro Tem, and that's a rowdy bunch that she had to deal with there in the state senate. I know from my own experience

You know she and I visit but I'm not suggesting that she needs advice from me. She knows what she's doing. She's going to be a tremendous representative for our state from day one.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or tweet us @vermontedition.

Connor Cyrus was co-host and senior producer of Vermont Edition from 2021-2023.
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