We're going to go out on a limb here and call the Vermont U.S. House of Representatives race for the incumbent, Democrat Peter Welch. Or perhaps we should be more precise and say for the Democrat-Republican Peter Welch, which is how his name will appear on the November ballot. Welch is now officially a “fusion candidate,” having received enough write-in votes on Republican ballots in the Sept. 9 primary election to win the GOP congressional nomination. While he calls himself a proud Democrat, he graciously accepted the nomination this week; by implication, he's a proud Republican when votes are at stake.No wonder he's voted to continue funding the war and has not called for Bush's impeachment. He's a Republocrat!
Welch is not the only Democratic fusion candidate on the Vermont ballot this year. The state auditor of accounts and state treasurer also picked up the Republican nominations because the party failed to field candidates for those positions, too.
Perhaps the popular Republican governor, Jim Douglas, has short coattails. Or maybe the state Republican Party made a strategic decision not to contest the U.S. House seat Welch has held since 2006, choosing instead to concentrate on securing the statehouse once again for Douglas, who is running for a fourth term against Democrat Gaye Symington and Independent Anthony Pollina. Congressional races are expensive, after all, and incumbents are often hard to beat.
But wouldn't the cause of democracy have been better served if Welch had a Republican rival? Dysfunction in Washington is all the more reason that voters need to hear from the major-party candidates in order to understand, and differentiate among, divergent points of view on the important issues of the day. Without a Republican opponent, Welch is unlikely to campaign as vigorously as he might have otherwise. He owes his constituents a thorough briefing on what he's tried to accomplish in the past two years and what his priorities are for the next two. After only one term in Congress, he's off easy, unchecked by a viable challenger.
We should mention here that Welch isn't running unopposed -- the names of three independents, a Progressive Party candidate [Thomas James Hermann] and a Liberty Union candidate [Jane Newton] will also appear on the November ballot. But you're unlikely to see or hear all the candidates together in one place, fielding questions from either the press or the public.
To this end, the League of Women Voters of the Upper Valley wants to host candidate forums for the Twin States' congressional and gubernatorial races (see today's letter on the opposite page). So far, the organization has had trouble drumming up interest. Some of the candidates have declined the invitation, including Welch and Rep. Paul Hodes, who represents New Hampshire's 2nd Congressional District. As the League points out, independent and uncommitted voters yearn to see candidates side by side. Are Welch and Hodes too smug or just too busy to join a League forum? Whatever the case, we hope the League has better luck with the gubernatorial candidates and with the major contenders for New Hampshire's U.S. Senate seat, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and incumbent Republican John Sununu. Participatory democracy cannot succeed without participation -- of the candidates, their parties and the people.
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