Metro, News

Republican, Dem. races for Senate hotly contested

Sen. Whitehouse faces Fontes in Dem. primary, De La Fuente challenges Flanders in Rep. primary

Senior Staff Writer
Sunday, September 9, 2018

Incumbent candidate Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., will be challenged in the Democratic primaries Sept. 12. He has publicly denounced the Trump administration's policies and is a staunch supporter of climate protections.

The Sept. 12 primaries for an open U.S. Senate seat in Rhode Island are fast approaching as both Democratic and Republican candidates attempt to catch their party’s nomination and position themselves to defeat incumbent Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. Gearing up to challenge Whitehouse in the Democratic primaries is Hopkinton native Pat Fontes, while Roque De La Fuente and Robert Flanders ’71 compete for the Republican nomination.

On the Democratic side of the primary, Whitehouse, a well-funded and widely known incumbent, is challenged by Fontes, an esoteric anti-war advocate. For the Republicans, a California native and career candidate De La Fuente attempts to defeat a respected former R.I. Supreme Court Judge, Flanders.

The disparities between candidates is well represented in the amount of money they’ve raised. Whitehouse has raised almost $5 million, and Flanders follows with around $605,000, according to Fontes and De La Fuente have yet to raise any money.

The Democrats

Whitehouse has held the Senate seat since 2007, serving before as the Attorney General of Rhode Island. On the Senate, he serves on the Budget, Environment and Public Works, Judiciary and Finance committees. He has been an outspoken critic of President Trump and has been vocal about climate change. “I’ve been leading the charge in the Senate to reduce carbon emissions and promote clean energy,” Whitehouse wrote in an email to The Herald.

“I’m hopeful that America will, sooner rather than later, resume its international leadership on climate change. It’s unlikely to happen while President Trump is in office and Republicans control Congress, but it’s too important for our economy and way of life for the United States to fall behind the rest of the world,” Whitehouse wrote.

With regard to student issues, Whitehouse worked to keep the Affordable Care Act intact, which, among other things, allows young people to stay on their parents insurance until they’re 26. “I’m also working to make sure graduates will enter an economy where they’ll be able to find a good job that can support a family, and that women will be paid fairly for their work,” Whitehouse wrote. He has also expanded the federal student loan forgiveness program to lessen the debt of those graduates who choose a career in the public sector.

Unlike the career politician Whitehouse, Fontes is an 81-year-old activist who, while aware of the unlikelihood of victory in the race, hopes to draw attention to the issues of American involvement in war and the environment because Whitehouse is “failing” in those areas, she said. Fontes took issue with Whitehouse’s vote in favor of the fiscal year 2018 military budget, which was $37 billion larger than President Trump pushed for, as reported by the New York Times.  He also voted against an amendment that would end the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force, which would have been an important step to limiting the president’s war powers, Fontes said.

Fontes prioritizes bringing a sense of morality back to politics and everyday life. “We talk a lot about American values, but I’m not so sure of what those values are besides make as many bucks as you can,” Fontes said. Rebuilding consideration for others is a priority of her campaign, she added.

She also has expressed a desire for a “fair tax plan” in which the wealthy pay a larger marginal income tax.  “I grew up knowing what life is like in a society where the excessively rich pay their fair share of the taxes,” she said. Fontes doesn’t see a return to that as being impossible.

Fontes’ campaign also centers around social justice. Social justice to Fontes means “things most associated with anti-poverty… universal healthcare, retirement security — which is a code word for not letting them destroy social security — and free college education,” she said.

Fontes said Brown students should vote for her “because they’re the people with the families that are going to live in the society with endless wars and the breaking-down environment.” But “even in this situation where I am almost certainly going to lose,” Fontes said, “we’ve learned a lot from, and I hope young people will learn from, what we did and what we didn’t do.”

Republican Candidates

On the right side of the aisle, the contrast between candidates is stark, and the race has involved a battle in court. De La Fuente, who goes by “Rocky,” is a car dealer and real estate developer currently residing in California. Although a registered Republican, he ran as a Democrat in the 2016 presidential election, and after failing to receive any delegates in the primaries, founded the American Delta Party to allow him to run in the general election. He received 0.02 percent of the total popular vote, according to the Federal Elections Commision. 

In the U.S. Senate primaries, De La Fuente is currently running for Senate in seven states: Rhode Island, Florida, Hawaii, Minnesota, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming. He has already been defeated as candidate for U.S. Senate in California. De La Fuente claims this strategy is legal as long as he is living in whatever state he is elected to before he is sworn in. De La Fuente is a spokesman against election fraud, and has centered his multiple campaigns around his Hispanic heritage, his career as a businessman and the issues of  campaign finance reform and comprehensive immigration reform.

In a press release, De La Fuente declares his intention to run in the primary in Rhode Island, stating, “he hopes to impress voters with his background as a successful entrepreneur in a multitude of businesses spread across the world … he is confident that his Hispanic heritage and his record as a champion of equality will lure the minority vote in his favor.”

His opponent Bob Flanders, a Rhode Island resident, challenged De La Fuente’s ability to run in the state, arguing in front of the R.I. Board of Elections that De La Fuente shouldn’t be eligible to run in the primary because he is not a “qualified voter” in Rhode Island. But the challenge was overturned under the ruling that a state cannot impose any requirements for running that go beyond those set out by the U.S. Constitution. 

Of his opponent, Flanders said “he seems to be some sort of a gadfly, I don’t know if he’s ever been to Rhode Island, or even knows where it is.”

Flanders, a University alum, is running as an “independent-minded Republican” who can work across the aisle. “I’m running on the idea that what we need most in Washington are people who are problem solvers who can work with both Democrats and Republicans, and even independents, to get things done,” he said. His policy priorities include healthcare, drug pricing, infrastructure and immigration.

While support of Trump has certainly been a lightning rod issue for candidates in these midterm elections, Flanders said he will not reflexively support all of the President’s actions. Though he is not convinced there are grounds to impeach the president as of yet, he remains supportive of the Mueller investigation and is open to the idea if new information is uncovered. 

“I’m going to call balls and strikes on (Trump) and make judgements about whether what he’s doing or saying or acting on are in the interest of Rhode Island and act accordingly.”

On Senator Whitehouse, his biggest criticism is that the sitting senator is a one-issue candidate, focusing too much on climate change and not on the problems that concern most Rhode Islanders. Flanders remains skeptical of human impact on climate change and its effect on the state. “I think it’s a stretch to say Rhode Island is going to be subsumed or overrun by tidal changes and rising tides,” Flanders said. “The temperature rises and sea level rises are not that different frankly, from what’s happened in the past.”

But when it comes to student issues, Flanders shares some stances on issues with Whitehouse. He intends to consider some policies that would help mitigate “burdensome” student loan debts and hold some institutions of higher learning, especially for-profit colleges, responsible when they fail to deliver on their promises and leave students saddled with enormous debts.

When asked why Brown students should vote for him, Flanders responded, “I would hope Brown students are like the rest of the population, and would like people who can work together and not be hyper-partisan. We need people who are problem solvers and not bomb throwers.”

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