Gerald Malloy’s Insurgent GOP Campaign for U.S. Senate Pits Him Against Popular Dem Peter Welch | Politics | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Gerald Malloy’s Insurgent GOP Campaign for U.S. Senate Pits Him Against Popular Dem Peter Welch


Published October 12, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated November 1, 2022 at 3:23 p.m.

  • Kevin Mccallum ©️ Seven Days
  • Gerald Malloy

When Republican Gerald Malloy entered the race to succeed U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in March, few Vermonters had heard of the recent transplant, let alone had any sense of his hard-right politics.

The Republican establishment was already backing Christina Nolan, a moderate former U.S. attorney with name recognition and positions that seemed to line up with many Vermonters' values, including support for environmental standards and LGBTQ rights.

But signs urging voters to "Deploy Malloy" began popping up in key roadside locations around the state. His campaign image is of a bald eagle with eyes as fierce as the U.S. Army veteran's own. Malloy campaigned hard on a platform of limited government, fiscal responsibility, a strong national defense, support for the fossil fuel industry and protection of constitutional rights such as gun ownership.

After pouring nearly $100,000 of his family's money into his GOP primary campaign, Malloy won decisively, landing 43 percent of the vote to Nolan's 38 percent and retired businessman Myers Mermel's 19 percent.

"I think Gerald Malloy surprised everyone, including me, in the primary," VTGOP chair Paul Dame said.

Malloy has followed that up with disciplined debate performances and a tireless general election campaign schedule. He's given multiple print, radio and TV interviews and even appeared on national outlets such as Fox News, which heralded his apparent momentum based on a poll released on September 9.

The Trafalgar Group's survey put Malloy just seven points behind U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who has represented the state in Congress for the past 15 years. Welch won the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate by a landslide.

With early voting already under way, Malloy must quickly convince voters who supported Leahy for 48 years to take a hard-right turn on issues such as abortion, guns, voting reform, former president Donald Trump and the climate crisis. Standing in Malloy's way is Welch, a popular, well-funded Democrat who has served the state in elected office for decades.

A newer poll released last week laid bare the uphill battle Malloy faces. Undertaken by the University of New Hampshire on behalf of WCAX-TV, the survey showed that Welch earned 62 percent of voters' support compared to 28 percent for Malloy. Even more potentially problematic for Malloy is that 43 percent of those polled did not know enough about him to have an opinion.

During a campaign stop in Stowe on Saturday, Malloy said he was aware of the poll but had not had time to assess it. He said he wasn't going to let it divert him from his mission.

"I'm going to keep driving on with my ground game," Malloy said.

Things didn't exactly go his way that day, however, as many voters shunned Malloy and his message.

In Stowe, Beth Dubin, owner of South Hero embroidery shop Sew Colorful, said Malloy hadn't lived in the state long enough to earn her vote. Her husband, Larry Dubin, said Malloy came across as a "super nice guy" but he "took the traditional Republican position on everything."

"Needless to say, he's not getting our vote," Larry said.

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar - KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Kevin Mccallum ©️ Seven Days
  • U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar

Malloy's opponent, Welch, 75, has been a fixture in Vermont politics for more than 30 years. A lawyer, Welch served in the state House and Senate in the 1980s, then lost a bid for governor in 1990. After another stint in the state Senate in the early 2000s, Welch was elected to Vermont's lone seat in the U.S. House in 2006. The Norwich resident has been a reliably progressive Democrat, supporting abortion rights, gun control and efforts to combat the climate crisis.

Welch announced his intention to run for Leahy's seat in November 2021, just a week after Vermont's senior senator announced his retirement.

Malloy, 60, grew up in a Catholic family in the Boston area, the eldest of nine kids. He attended West Point, served 22 years in the Army, mostly as a field artillery officer, and retired as a major.

He served in a battalion that fought to liberate Kuwait, launching 650 rockets against Iraqi positions. He also helped train thousands of National Guard troops prior to their deployments and worked in Manhattan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to help organize the military's response in New York.

After retiring from active duty in 2006, he held emergency management roles before going to work for defense contractors. Among his positions was a job in business development for Raytheon Technologies, one of the largest aerospace and defense conglomerates in the world. Malloy said he still works part time for a smaller defense contractor, which he declined to name.

He and his wife and kids were living in Baltimore in 2020 when, after months of being cooped up working and studying remotely, they decided to move to southern Vermont.

Malloy said he'd visited the state often as a kid, including for skiing and snowmobiling, and was familiar with the area through his supervision of ROTC units in New England, including at Norwich University.

His family bought a remodeled 1910 hunting lodge in Weathersfield on 80 acres in August 2020 and settled into what they hoped would be their final home after decades of relocating for the military. Three of their four children now attend Vermont schools.

Some have labeled Malloy a carpetbagger for deciding to run less than two years after arriving in Vermont.

"The timeline really indicates that he moved here to run," said Jim Dandeneau, executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party. Malloy, meanwhile, insists there was "not a twinkling in my eye of running for public office" until he learned the Senate seat would open up.

While Leahy's retirement may have planted the seed for Malloy's senatorial aspirations, Trump clearly tilled the soil. Malloy said he wishes Trump were president today and thinks Russia would not have invaded Ukraine if Trump were still in office.

"I think president Trump was a great president for our country," Malloy told WVMT radio.

Trump's electoral loss was initially difficult for Malloy to accept, he said, given how the vote count appeared to be heading in Trump's favor on election night. Asked whether he believes Trump was fairly elected or the election was stolen, he answered: "I believe President Biden is the president, and he was installed as president."

Malloy wanted to attend the January 6 rally but couldn't because of work and family obligations. Asked about his attraction to a Stop the Steal event that turned into a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, Malloy said he just wanted to hear Trump speak.

Like many other pro-Trump conservatives, Malloy is concerned about election integrity and thinks using paper ballots — and getting rid of voting machines — would improve the process. He favors doing away with universal mail-in voting, which Vermont now enjoys.

Malloy, though, has voted by mail for years, during his military service and afterward. While living in Baltimore, he voted by mail for a decade in Massachusetts; he was registered to vote in Wrentham, where his family owned property.

Malloy initially told Seven Days he voted for Trump in Weathersfield in 2020, not long after moving to the state. After being informed that he didn't register to vote in Vermont until November 24 — three weeks after the election — Malloy said he had misspoken and acknowledged voting by mail in Massachusetts. He noted that he voted in Weathersfield this year on Town Meeting Day and in the primary election.

Malloy deflects questions about Trump and January 6 because he, like other Republicans, wants it both ways, Dandeneau said. During the primaries, they want to tap into the anger and conspiracy theories that rile the Republican base, but then they try to appeal to a more moderate general election audience. Now, Dandeneau said, Malloy is shifting his positions as he tries to win a race involving the broader electorate.

Malloy is open about being anti-abortion, even in cases of rape or incest. But his answers about whether he would support a nationwide ban on abortion have shifted. Asked by two different interviewers during the primary whether he would support a nationwide ban, he said he would. He quickly qualified those answers by saying a nationwide ban is not necessary in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to strike down Roe v. Wade.

But now, Malloy said, he would support neither a nationwide ban nor a law protecting a woman's right to an abortion. The issue is before the states, where it belongs, he said.

Malloy's position on abortion makes him an "extreme outlier" on the issue, said Welch, who joined an impromptu rally for abortion rights on the June day the Supreme Court struck down Roe.

"It's a woman's right; it's not a state's right," Welch said. "It's up to a woman, wherever she lives, to make that decision."

Welch made those remarks last Friday following a roundtable on reproductive rights attended by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), a presidential candidate in 2020. Klobuchar was in Burlington to stump for Welch and stress the importance of electing a pro-choice Democrat to replace Leahy.

Klobuchar said allowing states to decide on abortion would create a patchwork of laws. Even Republicans in places such as Kansas are rejecting restrictions, she noted.

"His opponent is not in keeping with a huge swath of where moderate Republicans are," Klobuchar told Seven Days of Malloy.

Malloy noted that his campaign is about far more than just abortion and voting reform. He also wants to block some of Biden's environmental initiatives, which he called a "crusade to kill the oil and gas industry." He wants to rein in inflation by cutting federal spending and the $31 trillion deficit that he says is driving it. He thinks the country should finish the wall on the southern border with Mexico, lock up criminals, properly fund the police, and get tougher with Russia and China.

Malloy is also seeking to paint Welch's long tenure in Washington, D.C., as a liability, belittling his record and suggesting he is benefiting from his time there to enrich himself.

Welch has faced criticism for trading stocks in companies regulated by congressional committees on which he serves.

A recent New York Times analysis flagged eight stock trades Welch reported that involved possible conflicts of interest. These included sales of stock in tech giants such as Cisco and medical device manufacturer Medtronic. Welch oversees those industries as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Welch was also late in disclosing his wife, Margaret Cheney's, sale of stock in ExxonMobil worth $6,238 last September.

A spokesperson for Welch said he has "consistently supported ethics reform and transparency in government." He and Cheney no longer own individual stocks, and Welch supports a bill prohibiting members from owning them, the spokesperson said.

Dame, the VTGOP chair, said the trading conflicts nevertheless underscore Welch's vulnerability as someone out of touch with struggling Vermonters.

"Peter Welch is running into trouble," Dame said.

But at the Stowe Foliage Arts Festival, it was Malloy who was running into voters who found his positions troublesome. The event drew thousands to admire the handiwork of local artists against a backdrop of autumnal splendor blanketing the slopes of Mount Mansfield.

Dressed in a crisp white shirt, maroon tie and tweed sport coat with a military service pin, Malloy introduced himself to jeweler Annika Rundberg of Winooski and asked what issues were important to her.

"Women's reproductive rights," she replied without hesitation.

Malloy explained that there was nothing in the U.S. Constitution about such rights and that he supports states being able to decide such matters for themselves, as they would on this upcoming Election Day. A Vermont ballot measure called Article 22, for instance, would enshrine "personal reproductive autonomy" in the state constitution. A recent poll showed that three-quarters of Vermont voters support the measure, also known as Proposal 5.

Rundberg initially appeared confused by Malloy's answer, but after a few more clarifying questions, she wrapped up the conversation. After Malloy moved on, Rundberg told Seven Days she is adamantly opposed to politicians inserting themselves into medical decisions made by a woman and her doctor.

"I think it's bananas," Rundberg said.

Gerald Malloy talking to a skeptical Chris Gluck in Stowe - KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Kevin Mccallum ©️ Seven Days
  • Gerald Malloy talking to a skeptical Chris Gluck in Stowe

Chris Gluck of Underhill, an art instructor selling collages, listened politely as Malloy recounted how he marched in her town's parade. Malloy also noted that he enjoys the support of someone else from Underhill — Ellie Martin.

Martin is an anti-abortion activist and Trump supporter who helped organize a bus trip to D.C. to attend the January 6 rally. Gluck nodded and smiled weakly as Malloy spoke. Afterward, she said the association was disqualifying.

"I'm not for him at all," she said.

Jonathan Hart handed Malloy's card back to him after learning of his positions, telling him to give it to someone who might support him. The Charlotte photographer said he knew the conversation was hopeless when Malloy would not call the January 6 riot an insurrection. Malloy acknowledged that some protesters turned violent and those who did should be prosecuted, but Hart took that as downplaying the tragic events.

"He would just not own what I think he should own," Hart said.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Right Flank"