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Interview: Carl Sheeler, Democratic Candidate For Senate In Rhode Island

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.

About Dave Nalle

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com/ Michael J. West

    Damn good interview, Mr. Nalle. You asked a lot of tough, informed, if opinionated, questions (some it might be fair to call “loaded,” like the War on Drugs one), and you do it well.

    But even more impressively, he seems to have tackled each of them head-on, with little of the hedging and answering-questions-you-didn’t-ask that I’ve come to expect. OK, granted, he did dodge your social security question, but what he did say was pretty smart and interesting, I thought.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=gonzo%20marx gonzo marx

    good Interview!

    thanks for bringing this Candidate to our attention

    and good luck to the Candidate, he reads like the right man for the Job

    your mileage may vary

    Excelsior?

  • http://impeachforpeace.org Jodin

    Impeach Bush yourself! No Joke.
    This is much more than just a petition.

    There’s a little known and rarely used clause of the “Jefferson Manual” in the rules for the House of Representatives which sets forth the various ways in which a president can be impeached. Only the House Judiciary Committee puts together the Articles of Impeachment, but before that happens, someone has to initiate the process.

    That’s where we come in. In addition to the State-by-State method, one of the ways to get impeachment going is for individual citizens like you and me to submit a memorial. ImpeachforPeace.org has created a new memorial based on one which was successful in impeaching a federal official in the past. You can find it on their website as a PDF.

    You can initiate the impeachment process yourself by downloading the memorial, filling in the relevant information in the blanks (your name, state, etc.), and sending it in.

    ImpeachForPeace.org/

    More information on the precedent for submitting an impeachment
    memorial, and the House Rules on this procedure, can also be found at
    the above address.

    “I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we’re really talking about peace.”
    Bush, June 18, 2002

    “War is Peace.”
    Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=Boxclocke Boxclocke

    Great interview! If the Lieberman thing is any indicator, 2006 is the year in which Democratic voters are really going to challenge the status quo. If this guy is as genuine as he seems, he may just stand a chance.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    But even more impressively, he seems to have tackled each of them head-on, with little of the hedging and answering-questions-you-didn’t-ask that I’ve come to expect. OK, granted, he did dodge your social security question, but what he did say was pretty smart and interesting, I thought.

    He didn’t just dodge the Social Security question, he answered it with something goofy and nonsensical with his ‘donut hole’ analogy. But on the whole it was an interesting set of answers.

    He also sort of dodged the question about the party’s lack of support for the ‘Fighting Dems’. It’s a major issue, and one which he is directly impacted by, but he sort of gave the party a break, when he could have laid into them a lot harder.
    Dave

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com/ Michael J. West

    he sort of gave the party a break, when he could have laid into them a lot harder.

    But that can’t have been a surprise, can it? How hard is he gonna attack a party whose nomination he’s pursuing?

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com/ Michael J. West

    And I liked the idea, if not the metaphor, of the “donut hole” deal.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    I like the metaphor more than the idea, myself.

    I’m actually working on a sort of follow-up article to this which I may or may not put on BC.

    Sheeler’s comments, in light of the Lamont victory in Connecticut, raise a lot of interesting issues about where the Democratic party is going.

    Dave

  • http://www.carlsheeler.com Carl Sheeler

    Dave – splendid job and I appreciate your viewers’ feedback. For Jodin, we were the first to employ the Jefferson Manual rules which allows a state legislative body without Governor approval to submit a resolution directly to the US House floor for vote. It’s expedited and must be heard. We went to bat three times with full articles of Impeachment, but the insider herd supporting my opponent did not want to give too much political benefit, so they killed it. Love establishment Democrat leadership taking care of their oath to our Constitution.

    No dodging questions here.

    cls

  • pleasexcusetheinteruption12

    I like the donut whole idea AND the metaphor. In fact why not just cut the donut in half, and make the cap the minimum?

  • http://www.afsc.org Liz S.

    For anyone who’s reading this and thinking about actively supporting Carl Sheeler (do.it.), I will add my own experience and perception.

    I met Carl as a student activist/organizer at Brown. And, regardless of donut holes, I can say with all honesty that he and his team, especially his wonderful partner, Sara, are some of the most hardworking, caring, non-elitist, honest and responsible people I’ve ever met.

    More so than even millionare Ned Lamont, Sheeler represents a truly regular guy, an every-day person who is actually JUST passionate about reforming the many broken systems that hinder our government and burden our fellow-citizens, not to mention others around the world. If elected, he will do more good than any of his competetors. I have not a single doubt in my mind.

    I hope that you choose to actively* support Carl Sheeler, however you can. I have, along with a lot of the most dedicated grass-roots organizers in RI. even if it just means adding your name to his list-serve or whatever.

    Bests Carl and Sara!

  • Steve M.

    This interview is yet another example of why Carl should be the Democratic nominee for Senator. When’s the last time you heard Sheldon Whitehouse take any position on any issue that wasn’t the usual fluffy, feel good, shallow commentary that characterizes the ‘establishment’ politicians? Say what you want about some of Carl’s answers, but I find them so refreshing and real. I honestly can’t understand why any level headed person could support Whitehouse over Sheeler.

    Despite your characterization of Carl as a longshot Dave, I won’t be surprised when he beats Whitehouse in the primary. I think there’s a lot more support out there in the grassroots than anyone thinks, despite 1) the mainstream media’s efforts to marginalize him, and 2) Sheldon Whitehouse’s efforts to refuse to debate Sheeler until it’s politically “safe” to do so. Heck, has Whitehouse even acknowledged that he has an opponent? I can only laugh as it reminds me of the parallel to Ben & Jerry’s clever 1987 campaign when Pillsbury (and their Haagen-Dazs division) attempted to prevent B&J from being sold in supermarkets where Haagen-Dazs was sold: “What’s the Doughboy Afraid Of?”

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I’ll certainly shed no tears for Whitehouse, who seems to offer nothing interesting whatsoever as a Democratic candidate. Sheeler would make for a more interesting race, and the Democrats could certainly use some new blood and new ideas.

    I have to be honest and admit that I’m rooting for Chafee overall, and a Sheeler win in the primary would likely assure that no one crossed over and voted Democrat, thereby increasing Chafees chances of winning. I have to support Chafee because he’s one of the few rays of hope in the GOP and if he doesn’t win reelection that’s a victory for the forces of evil which have infiltrated the GOP, and I don’t want them to gain even a tiny millimeter.

    Dave

  • http://counter-point.blogspot.com Scott

    I wonder if Lieberman’s defeat (or McKinney’s or Schwarz in MI-07) is making Chafee a little more nervous about his primary battle.

    Chafee’s particular race has always piqued my interest. Even if he survives the primary, he’s not assured re-election. But, if he does get re-elected and the Dems manage to take control of the Senate, would he go ahead and switch parties? Or, pull a Jeffords and go independent? Definitely one to watch.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Chafee is in a unique situation, because he’s a moderate Republican facing a challenger more to the right than he is and then a likely challenge from a Democrat who’s ALSO more to the right than he is in the general election. Very weird.

    I hope that Chafee will have the integrity not to switch parties if the scenario you suggest comes to pass. We need him desperately in the GOP, even if the Dems gain a majority in the Senate.

    Dave

  • pleasexcusetheinteruption12

    I took a quick look at the poll numbers and maybe I was getting numbers mixed up or something but if I rem correctly, Sheeler was polling less than 3% in February against other Dems, and in June was up to 45%. Not exactly a longshot esp. considering 35% of voters were still undecided and the momentum is with him. I also wonder how much more effective his grassroots campaign might be in a smaller state like RI and how much more volatile the polling might be.

  • http://www.carlsheeler.com Carl Sheeler

    Thanks, please excuse. Dave, it’s true that 25% of those in the GOP voted for Chafee thinking it was his father John. That’s unlikely to happen in ’06. W is no Bush Sr. and Linc is not his father.

    Sheldon has been making the point that a GOP win ensures Frist sets the Senate agenda and in the end… if Chafee wanted to be an independent voice for the people, his choice ought to have been disaffiliation to at least an Independent.

    This would have reconciled with his write in of Bush Sr’s. name in the 2004 prez’ elections.

    A last point… it’s one thing to vote against the war and entirely another to actively push for our troops removal from Iraq. In the end, I believe this will be his downfall.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    PETI. Where did you find that poll with Carl at 45%. I tried my damnedest to find it and couldn’t. It wasn’t the poll of 300 Brown University students, was it? I kind of had to discount that one. The most recent major poll I saw had Whitehouse around 45%, Sheeler at under 10% and 35% undecided, as I recall, and that was from a couple of weeks ago. The Sheeler campaign folks were going to send me a link to a more recent poll but I never got it. Maybe since Carl’s here he could help us out with that.

    Dave

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Sheldon has been making the point that a GOP win ensures Frist sets the Senate agenda and in the end… if Chafee wanted to be an independent voice for the people, his choice ought to have been disaffiliation to at least an Independent.

    Not a good thing for those of us who still hold out hopes for GOP reform from within. We need all the moderates, nonconformists and freethinking types we can get.

    Just as you’re part of an effort to put the Dems back on track, there is a major effort to set the GOP back to where it ought to be. To put it back to the party of John Chafee, Barry Goldwater and Bob Dole – or at least something they would have recognized as a reasonable party. It’s not getting the kind of coverage that the more radical Dem candidates are, but it’s going on behind the scenes, nonetheless.

    Dave

  • Nancy

    Excellent article, Dave. Very interesting. I hope you’re right about rank-&-file GOPs trying to take back The Party to where it should be; for too long it’s been hijacked by the corrupt, BushCo lockstep far-right crowd who in fact share nothing of traditional GOP values & who in the past 6 years seem to have been doing their utmost to do exactly the opposite, by instituting big, intrusive, big-spending government. IMO the Abramoff scandal may be one of the best things to happen to the GOP in a long, long time, because it will remove some of the worst of the abusers, if it hasn’t already, and (hopefully) loosen the grip of the remaining BushCo yes-men like Frist & Hastert. What Bush & Cheney & their camp followers have done to the GOP is enough to make any Republican moderate weep with rage & frustration.

    Which is exactly why I’m hoping & praying that the recent ouster of Lieberman is an inkling of a coming groundswell of angry voters taking back power from stupid & non-representative Party hacks on both sides. IMO these Party insiders, Dem & GOP, are so clueless & removed from reality as the voters live it, they render the Parties themselves to be equally clueless & removed from reality.

  • pleasexcusetheinteruption12

    My poll numbers come from: dailykos.com
    in the second paragraph it mentions poll #s of whitehouse and sheeler, but I dont know where they come from or their margin of error or who was polled or anything, which is why i indicated i was unsure about the #s when I posted them.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    You miss the point, Nancy. Bush and Cheney are not actually the problem in the GOP. The problem is the special interests they pander to. They’re just typical venal politicians. Going after them solves nothing, because there are scores more just like them waiting in the wings. What the party needs to be purged of are the special interest and one-issue fanatics who sacrifice real GOP values in service of some crazy ’cause’.

    Dave

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    PETI, experience has taught me not to believe anything posted at DailyKos. But maybe with those numbers I can track the poll down.

    Dave

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I checked again, and all references to that polling data seem to originate in the Sheeler campaign. I previously asked them for a copy of the poll, but although they promised to provide it they never did.

    The most recent and most favorable polls I can find show Sheeler losing even if he got 100% of the undecided vote.

    Dave

  • Nancy

    BTW, I really, Really like this piece, Dave. Good job!

  • http://www.wickedphilosophy.com/steve.html Steve W

    Great interview, Dave. The Sheeler camp approached me for an interview as well, and I found his energy policy ideas potentially groundbreaking. I also delved into the politics behind the infamous billboard:

    All in all, I’m impressed with the effort he’s made to reach out to the blogosphere and provide well-reasoned and articulated answers in every interview I’ve come across.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    All in all, I’m impressed with the effort he’s made to reach out to the blogosphere and provide well-reasoned and articulated answers in every interview I’ve come across.

    All of which, sadly, really means very little in whether or not he actually gets elected.

    Dave

  • Lumpy

    Trying to reform the democratic party is like putting lipstick on a pig. Underneath the paint youLve still got a pig.

    When a candidate like this one starts talking about breaking the party ties to the NEA and AARP and the0policies which are leading the whole society to destruction then I’ll take them seriously.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    I doubt that a major democratic candidate could survive without the money from groups like the NEA. Which is why it’s impossible to support them. No matter how awful the Republicans may be, their willingness to at least sometimes fight the NEA offers one of the few, small hopes we have for the future.

    Dave

  • JustOneMan

    Sorry but this guy is a light weight…not one unique idea or alternative…alll he does is read the DNC Talikng Points.

    In addition he reveals himself with these code words “The Latino and minority communities support my campaign because they’ve been ignored and the immigration issue is a tipping point putting many into primary elections this year.”

    Let me translate….”I support quotas amd affirmative actions cause youse minorites are too stupid to do it on your own and I need some Mexicans to mow my lawn and wash my dishes”

    Pure liberal racism at its best….

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    JoM, just out of idle curiosity, did you actually READ the interview?

    Dave

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Just a quick followup. The results are in from the Rhode Island primary. Not only did Sheeler lose, he was utterly crushed by Whitehouse. In fact he did so badly he even came in behind a third candidate I wasn’t even aware of – Christopher Young.

    This is about the most resounding rejection of the far-left attempt to take the lead among Democrats I’ve seen, a strong indicator that the Lamont victory in Connecticut is a fluke.

    The final results were: Whitehouse 81.54%, Young 10.51%, Sheeler 7.94%.

    But there’s good news from Rhode Island too. Lincoln Chafee soundly defeated far right challenger Stephen Laffey 54% to 45%.

    Chances are Chafee will beat Whitehouse just as soundly in November.

    Dave