MONTPELIER, Vt. — Democratic Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont is feeling the love from Republicans.
Welch won both the Democratic and Republican nominations in August for re-election this year to a sixth term, and faces a little known candidate in November from the small Liberty Union political party.
Winning both major party nominations is rare but not unheard of. Welch also was the pick of both parties in 2008 for Vermont’s only seat in the U.S. House. This year, he’s the only congressional candidate nominated by both the Democrats and the Republicans.
Known as an open-minded liberal, Welch is praised by GOP leaders in the House as a trustworthy colleague not given to grandstanding.
“He makes a genuine effort to understand other perspectives,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina Republican who chaired the House committee that probed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s actions surrounding the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi.
“(Welch) never assumes he knows the motives of those with whom he disagrees,” Gowdy added. “He actively looks for areas of consensus and does not care who gets the credit. He offers praise in public and constructive criticism in private.”
In an interview Friday, Welch said he joked with Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy on a congressional trip to Europe during the Vermont primaries that he would be a new member of the Republican caucus. He received news of his double nomination while on the trip to learn about the refugee crisis and the repercussions of the British vote to leave the European Union.
“I told him (McCarthy) I had good news and bad news,” Welch said, recounting a tale he had shared with Politico on Thursday. “The good news was I just learned you’ve got a new member of the Republican conference. The bad news is I’ll be presenting the Sanders wing of the Republican Party.”
Unlike fellow Vermont Democrats Sen. Patrick Leahy, Gov. Peter Shumlin and former Gov. Howard Dean, Welch endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders, a long-time left-leaning independent, as he sought the Democratic presidential nomination. Welch is a strong supporter of abortion rights, action to address climate change and other liberal causes.
Welch attributes his popularity in Congress to “the Vermont way,” in which politics in Montpelier are conducted on friendlier terms than is often the case in Washington. He recalled that when he first got to the state Senate in the 1980s, Republican leaders Sens. Robert Gannett and Arthur Gibb listened to his views and gave him a plum committee assignment.
“I’ll never forget how they treated me decently,” Welch said. “It created in me a very strong incentive to be a contributor and not just a bomb thrower.”
The current top Republican in the Vermont Senate, Sen. Joe Benning of Caledonia County, said Welch works harder than Sanders and Leahy to stay in touch with Vermonters.
“He has taken a lot of time to travel around the state,” Benning said. “He spends a lot of time in various communities getting updated.”
Benning said he would like to see Vermont send a moderate Republican or two to Washington to help steer the national party back toward the political center. But, he added, “If I were to challenge him (Welch), I feel like I would need a reason, and I don’t see a reason there.”