Leahy out, Welch in


A Senatorial Titan

Vermont’s elder statesman Patrick Leahy announced his retirement last week. The Democratic Senator was first elected in 1974 in the wake of Watergate. Leahy is the last Senate ‘Watergate Baby’. (The term only applies to Democrats, so Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is excluded even though he won his House seat in 1974)
Leahy is the only Democrat ever elected to represent the Green Mountain State in the Senate. (Fellow Senator Bernie Sanders is technically an independent, though he caucuses with the Democrats) The President Pro Tempore’s electoral reliability has tracked with Vermont’s steady leftward shift at the federal level. He won competitive reelection bids in 1980 and 1992 but has otherwise had no difficulty securing additional terms.
When he leaves office in 2023, Leahy will have served 48 years in the Senate – beating out South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond to solidify the third longest tenure in the chamber’s history. At 51 years served, West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd still holds the Senate’s all-time tenure record. Leahy’s legislative record is far too broad to include in this article. Over the course of his long career he has chaired three important committees: Agriculture, Judiciary, and Appropriations.
Out with the old and in with the (not so) new

The 81-year old incumbent isn’t quite retiring to open up his seat to the next generation. Peter Welch, Vermont’s At-Large US Representative, announced his bid for the open Senate seat on Monday. The eight term Congressman seems to be Leahy’s anointed successor; he has already been endorsed by state icon Bernie Sanders. If Welch wins he would take office at 75, making him one of the oldest freshman Senators ever.
Republicans have become anathema in Vermont Senate races. Even Phil Scott, the most popular Governor in the nation by one recent metric, would be hard-pressed to win a Senate seat in his state with an R next to his name. With the prominent moderate eschewing GOP calls to run for Senate, Scott Milne seems like a possible nominee. Milne nearly upset Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin in 2014 before losing handily to Leahy in the 2016 Senate race.
Jim Jeffords was the last Republican to win a Senate race in Vermont. He chose to become an independent caucusing with the Democrats after his 2000 victory. His move cost Republicans control of what was then a tied Senate.
The race to be the next US Representative (Senator?) from Vermont

Given Welch’s advanced age, it’s possible he’ll decide to make his stint in the Senate a short one. That would mean an open seat in 2028 or 2034. A Sanders retirement in 2024 would create an opening even sooner. Assuming Vermont’s At-Large House seat continues to serve as a springboard to the upper chamber, Welch’s successor could end up in high places within the next decade.
There are multiple Democrats to watch, but we’re particularly interested in two: Lt. Governor Molly Gray and state Senate President Becca Balint. House Speaker Jill Krowinski has already declined to run. The eventual winner of what could become a crowded primary will likely face token Republican opposition next November.
What else is new on the campaign trail?

  • Ohio and Oklahoma have officially enacted their new Congressional maps. We discussed Ohio’s plan in detail in Monday’s issue. Remember that the Buckeye State’s new lines are only in effect for 2022 and 2024. Oklahoma took the Utah route in scrapping its only competitive seat (OK-5) in favor of an entirely safe Republican map.
  • TX-1 Republican Louie Gohmert joined a slew of GOP retirees in announcing a bid for higher office yesterday. The outspoken conservative has represented his northeastern Texas seat since 2005. He enters a crowded primary field for Attorney General against incumbent Ken Paxton. Other hopefuls include Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former TX state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, and state Representative Matt Krause. Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran and state Representative Matt Schaefer are potential Gohmert replacements.
  • Ahead of the enactment of Georgia’s new Congressional map, 6th district Democrat Lucy McBath announced that she would be running in the nearby 7th district. The two-term Congresswoman’s decision comes after her Fulton/Cobb-based seat was drawn north to become Republican. Ex-state Representative Meagan Hanson is a Republican to watch in the new 6th. McBath’s decision leaves freshman Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux’s future in the Gwinnett-based 7th district woefully uncertain. The new 7th’s combined minority population of 67% could help McBath in the primary. It’s too early to pick definitive favorites, but Bourdeaux could be in trouble. Given the new seat gave President Biden 62% of the vote last year, 2020 GOP nominee Rich McCormick may have to reconsider the validity of his rematch bid.
  • As Pennsylvania’s Gubernatorial field comes together, so does its Senate field. Trump-backed Republican Sean Parnell dropped out of the race yesterday after losing a child custody battle to his ex-wife. Allegations of spousal abuse had already dogged the former Congressional candidate’s campaign. His exit leaves the door open for numerous candidates, including 14th district Republican Congressman Guy Reschenthaler. The Democratic field remains unchanged.
  • The Democratic primary to succeed long-time Dallas Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson gained a prominent contender this afternoon in State Representative Jasmine Crockett. The freshman legislator could become the frontrunner assuming no bigger names enter the ring. Johnson is expected to endorse a successor.

My name is Harrison Lavelle and I am a political analyst studying political science and international studies at the College of New Jersey. As a co-founder and partner at Split Ticket, I coordinate our House coverage. I write about a variety of electoral topics and produce political maps. Besides elections, my hobbies include music, history, language, aviation, and fitness.

Contact me at @HWLavelleMaps or harrisonwlavelle1@gmail.com