Vermonters are going to the polls today to determine statewide primary races. Three Democrats, including the longtime incumbent, are seeking to represent the state in Congress.
Vermont has one Congressional representative for the entire state: Democrat Peter Welch, who was first elected to the House in 2006. The Democrats challenging him are educator Benjamin Mitchell, who describes himself as a Democratic Socialist, and Dan Freilich, a physician and Navy captain who says he is a Progressive Democrat.
During a debate last week on Channel 17 Town Meeting Television, Mitchell said the biggest issue facing the next Congress will be impeachment. “And we need people in the House of Representatives who are going to place the immediate needs of the Constitution and the people of the United States before the Democratic Party and their claims to power, and another the corporate democratic establishment doesn’t want to do it because they think it’ll use up too much political capital. We need people to stand on the floor and say this is wrong and to fight for our democracy. We’re watching it fall away and this is important to the people of Vermont and the people of the United States.”
Welch said he had past opportunities to work for corporations but instead has devoted his career to public service. “When I got out of law school I had a chance to work on Wall Street. I had a chance to work on K Street. That’s corporate America. I ended up on Bridge Street in White River Junction as a public defender and that’s where my heart is. It’s serving people. So I had a chance to do the corporate thing but I chose the thing that’s been much more rewarding much more enriching and I want to keep working for Vermonters.”
Freilich says honor must be brought to the election process. “I think if we stand up and if we take ownership of our vote, we don’t say that taking money is OK because we may have some end result that we want, we insist that our leaders minimize their conflicts of interest because it’s the right thing to do if nothing else. And I think that we should insist that Democrats and in particular that our single Congressman spend their time on core, core issues, the things that really matter to all Americans.”
The challengers pounced on what they perceive as a potential weakness for the incumbent. Mitchell first brought up Welch’s acceptance of PAC money and campaign donations and Freilich reinforced the contention. “We need Congressmen who stand up to the corporations. I still say if you stop taking corporate money I’ll drop out right now! Taking that money certainly it it challenges our ability to respect.”
Peter Welch: “On the corporate money. You know, campaign finance, we’ve got to change Citizens United. We’ve got to get disclosure. We’ve got to get dark money out of politics and if we can have public financing that would take a lot this question out.”
Moderator Howard Wooden: “I want to give Dan some time here.”
Dan Freilich: “Yeah I, I have a document here. Anybody can download it from the Federal Election Commission site. So this is all of Mr. Welch’s PAC money. Now I’m going to say up front that my colleague takes less money than many. The problem is that you take a lot of it and for some reason and you and your colleagues, I don’t think you’re any different than most, are not willing to have the insight to understand the destruction to our democracy and the inability to advocate for middle class people.”
Middlebury College Professor of Political Science Bert Johnson thinks Welch will win the primary. “I would expect that Peter Welch would win that one fairly easily although Dan Freilich has done a pretty good job of raising the profile of his arguments against Welch having to do with money in politics and campaign finance. So with respect to that race I would be interested to see whether Freilich is able to garner enough protest votes to make the establishment Democrats sit up and take notice about that issue.”
Johnson notes that there is another Democratic primary among the state’s federal representatives that’s been virtually unnoticed — the race for U.S. Senate. “Welch’s opponent, Freilich, has actually made some waves. Sanders’ opponents have no waves that I’ve seen (laughs). So I would be surprised if they garnered much support at all. I think if there’s a establishment politician getting a protest vote, number one, I would say it was Phil Scott in the governor’s race, there could be a protest vote against him in the primary, number two is Welch and far behind those two would be Sanders. I’d be very surprised if people are voting against Sanders in large numbers.”
Four Republicans and a Democrat are running in the Senate primary. Polls across Vermont close at 7 p.m.