Gov. Peter Shumlin's unexpected announcement this week that he won't seek a fourth term in office has set off a wild scramble among a large group of potential gubernatorial candidates. One of those candidates is Congressman Peter Welch.
Political observers say it's likely that Welch would be the strongest Democrat in the field if he chooses to run.
Welch has a strong state and national political resume. He has served as president of the Vermont Senate and he's been elected to five terms in the U.S. House. He ran for governor in 1990 and lost a close race to Republican Dick Snelling.
Welch says Shumlin's announcement caught him by surprise and he wants some time to think about a possible run for governor.
“All of us, I think, in politics have as a primary goal being useful as a public servant. And your opportunities vary depending on your circumstances, both personal and political,” Welch says.
Welch says personal considerations will be the biggest factor in his decision.
“I very much like my job, and have established myself here as somebody who can work across the aisle. And we absolutely, absolutely have to have that,” Welch says. “But the question is personal and political: Where can I best serve Vermont?"
Eric Davis, Middlebury College professor emeritus of political science, says there's no question that Welch would be the Democrats' strongest candidate if he decides to run.
"The likelihood is that he would win the Democratic nomination without having to face a serious primary challenge next August,” Davis says. “And he might be the only Democrat about whom that could be said."
Davis says it's important for the Democrats to avoid a contentious gubernatorial primary in 2016. That's because the National Republican Governors Association has already targeted the Vermont race as a top priority.
"If a Welch candidacy would basically clear the field and avoid the possibility of a distracting primary contest, that would take energy and money away from attempting to maintain control of the governorship,” Davis says. “That's an outcome that many Democrats would find satisfactory.”
Davis says a decision by Welch to run for governor means that Vermont would have an open U.S. House seat for the first time in 10 years. If this happens, Davis predicts that many candidates will be drawn to both the Democratic and Republican primaries for this office.