I was recently approached by a representative of the Carl Sheeler campaign about possibly interviewing the candidate. Sheeler is in a hotly contested primary with Sheldon Whitehouse over the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat currently held by Republican Lincoln Chafee. He was taking a shot in the dark to see if I'd be interested in interviewing the candidate before the upcoming Democratic Primary on September 12th.
Given the short notice and the fact that I'm not particularly tied-in to Rhode Island politics, I hesitated to do the interview even though they wanted all the publicity they could get. My knowledge of Rhode Island mainly comes from visiting with my sister who lives in Naragansett. But certain aspects of the Sheeler campaign compelled my interest, particularly because he is one of the 'Fighting Dem' veterans who are running in primaries all around the nation and challenging the Democratic Party status-quo.
Since I'm working on other articles on the campaign, including one on the 'Fighting Dems', finding out more about Sheeler first hand seemed like a great opportunity. Plus he's interesting. He's a veteran and a successful businessman, yet his viewpoint is pretty far to the left of insider Democrats like his primary opponent Sheldon Whitehouse. And boy is he to the left. He's got links to Democratic Underground and DailyKos on his site, and is promoting Sen. John Conyers' efforts to impeach President Bush. He also has some unusual and even innovative ideas. His underdog campaign has attracted some notice and gained some steam in the last few weeks, but it's particularly notable for the way that it has been overlooked by the media, written-off by insiders and even ignored by the pollsters. The question is whether he'll have better luck attracting the attention of voters and stage a surprising upset on the 12th.
For those not familiar with the other players in this race, Lincoln Chafee is the incumbent Republican. He's relatively young and running for what would be his second term in a seat which was previously held by his father. He's about as Liberal as a Republican can get, earning considerable ire in his own party for some of his positions, such as his strong pro-choice stance and being the only Republican Senator to vote against the War in Iraq. Some Republicans have even suggested supporting a more conservative Democrat challenger just to get Chafee out of office. Chafee actually faces a stiff primary challenge himself from Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey.
Sheeler's opponent in the primary is Sheldon Whitehouse, former Rhode Island Attorney General and Democratic candidate for governor. Whitehouse is a political insider whose platform is pretty much the straight Democratic party line. He's got the party machine and party money behind him. He actually comes off as a bit more conservative than Chafee, and the most recent Rasmussen Poll shows him potentially beating Chafee by 5 points in the general election.
I have to admit upfront that I think Sheeler remains a longshot, though the primary is still very much up in the air with a lot of undecided voters. But regardless of whether he wins or loses, he's an articulate voice for a strong and growing element of the Democratic Party which ought to be heard. So I did a little research and put together a set of questions covering the major issues, and got these interesting and sometimes surprising answers:
DN: A recent Rasmussen poll shows your primary opponent beating either Lincoln Chafee or Steve Laffey in the general election, and although you've made impressive strides in catching up, you still have to be considered a long shot. Why should dedicated Democrats vote for you instead of Sheldon Whitehouse if he can deliver victory in November and you're an unknown quantity? You've commented "If Lincoln Chafee had run as a Democrat or Independent, I might not be running for U.S. Senate." Will you be able to run effectively against him if you get the nomination?
CS: Ninety days before the 2002 gubernatorial elections few people knew who Don Carcieri was, as he had not previously held elected office…however, between Sheldon Whitehouse not lending support after his defeat to his primary opponent, Myrth York, and despite York's two prior runs, Carcieri became our Republican governor.