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US Sen. Whitehouse faces GOP's Flanders in bid for 3rd term

This combination of photos shows Republican Bob Flanders, left, on Oct. 9, 2018, in Warwick, R.I., and Democrat Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, right, on Oct. 17, 2017, in Washington. Flanders is challenging Whitehouse in the Nov. 6, 2018 general election (AP Photos)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is touting his record in the Senate in the hopes of earning a third term while Republican challenger Bob Flanders says he could get more done for the state.

Rhode Island voters will choose between Whitehouse and Flanders on Tuesday. Whitehouse, a Democrat, has successfully pushed for legislation and funding to address the nationwide opioid epidemic. He's one of the leading voices in the Senate to do more to address climate change and President Donald Trump signed a bill he helped write to address marine debris in October, praising the bipartisan effort.

"I'm a proven fighter with the ability also to make bipartisan progress," Whitehouse said in a recent interview. "I think to be effective in the Senate, you've got to be able to stand and fight and fight hard, but also realize when there's a bipartisan opportunity and take it."

Flanders, a former state Supreme Court justice, says he could be more effective in Washington as a Republican and as a problem-solver. He's critical of Whitehouse's focus on climate change.

Flanders has been telling voters, "We need a climate change in Washington."

A September poll showed Whitehouse with a double-digit lead. Whitehouse has raised $6.5 million in this election cycle and spent $5.3 million, according to federal filings. Flanders raised about $1.1 million and spent most of it, records show.

If re-elected, Whitehouse said his top priorities would be protecting people's health care, getting rid of anonymous "dark money" spending in political campaigns, pushing to get a bill passed to charge a fee for carbon pollution, continuing to tackle the opioid crisis and undoing features of the Republican tax bill that worsen income inequality.

He said he's proud of the legislation he wrote creating a fund to help coastal communities address the challenges they face as the consequences of climate change. In response to his opponent's criticism, he suggested Flanders look at the maps of what Rhode Island will look like if climate change isn't addressed soon.

"I try to keep a really strong focus on the Rhode Island economy and jobs in all of this," he said. "Climate change, for instance, is not just a big deal in some global sense, but it's also really affecting the fishing communities."

Whitehouse, of Newport, says Flanders would align with Republicans in support of policies that aren't good for Rhode Island.

Flanders, of East Greenwich, says he's running because he is frustrated with career politicians in Washington who don't work together to solve the nation's problems. The only elected office Flanders held was as a town councilman.

Flanders said he's a problem-solver. He points to how he helped Central Falls, Rhode Island after it declared bankruptcy as the state-appointed receiver.

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"We really do need a climate change in the sense that we've got to get away from the hyper-partisanship that prevails in Washington today that's not helping the country," he said in a recent interview. "Until we elect people that have a different mindset about working with each other, we're not going to change."

If elected, Flanders said he'd champion a bipartisan plan to make health care more affordable and lower prescription drugs costs. Flanders said that would involve preserving some parts of the Affordable Care Act, such as allowing parents to keep children on their health insurance policy until they turn 26 years old. He said he'd also focus on investing in infrastructure and on immigration reform, with better vetting and better border security.

Flanders said he has always been an independent-minded Republican and that he would say when he disagrees with President Donald Trump. He agrees with Trump on reducing taxes but strongly disagrees with the family separation policy.

Whitehouse is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Flanders has said Whitehouse's questions were disrespectful during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Whitehouse says he received positive feedback and his approach was the right one.


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