By Heather Caygle
Vermont Rep. Peter Welch is about as liberal a member of Congress as you'll find. So what's he doing running for reelection as a Republican?
Fear not, Democrats. It turns out Welch, the Green Mountain State's lone representative, will be on the ballot this fall as both a Democrat and a Republican. A write-in campaign for the GOP nomination was launched on his behalf without his knowledge, and after coming out on top, Welch accepted.
"Obviously, there's no secret about where my policies are, where my voting record is," Welch said in an interview. Without a hint of sarcasm, however, he added: "I've accepted the Republican nomination [and] I'm pleased to have it."
On most issues, Welch is a Bernie Sanders-backing, card-carrying progressive. But Republicans adore the 69-year-old congressman, and he's actually kinda proud of his cross-party credentials.
Welch counts some of the most conservative members of the GOP conference -- people like Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores (R-Texas) and House Freedom Caucus member Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) -- as among his closest pals in Congress.
"He's impossible to not like," Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said in an interview. The two first bonded after serving on the Oversight Committee together and later introduced a bill together.
It's the kind of story several of Welch's Republicans friends have.
"I remember Peter would walk over after he asked his questions and I asked mine and he would either offer a compliment or more likely what I considered to be incredibly constructive criticism," Gowdy said. "I have never heard him question another member's motives. He's got the one quality that you cherish the most in politics, which is trust."
Welch is quick to return the favor: "He's just been murder on a lot of our witnesses. He's just really good," he said of Gowdy. "I've always found him to be fair and have a wicked sense of humor."
Welch said he first learned about the Republican primary win while on a congressional trip to Europe in late August led by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). Welch was the only Democrat on the trip.
"I said, "Kevin, there's good news and bad news. You've got a new member of the Republican conference,'" Welch recounted. McCarthy's ears "perked up" at first, Welch said, before he quickly dashed the GOP leader's hopes. "The bad news is I'm going to be representing the Sanders wing of the Republican party."
His bipartisan roots go back to his time in the Vermont state house, Welch said. As a minority member in the state Senate, he said Republicans in the majority made an effort to include him.
"I never forgot how well they treated me and gave me an opportunity to be a contributor," he said.
Later, as state Senate president, he appointed Republicans to lead some committees.
"When I tell some of my colleagues in Washington, they literally think I need a mental status examination," he said. "[But] when you had Republicans chairing, they had a real stake in the outcome, they were honest contributors and then once we got something done, it stayed done. That model of how we worked together in Vermont is I think how I consistently act in Washington."
William Senning, Vermont director of elections, said a multiple-party listing for a single candidate isn't unheard of in the state -- it also happened to Welch in 2008 -- and one person was once listed as the candidate for five different parties.
But that doesn't stop some Republicans from hoping Welch would reconsider his party affiliation.
Gowdy said, half-jokingly, that Republicans "probably would" let Welch caucus with them if he really wanted to. The Vermont Democrat is trustworthy enough, Gowdy said, that he "wouldn't repeat what he heard."