SILER CITY — Eying a seat in the U.S. Senate, Dr. Atul Goel is hitting the pavement, knocking on doors of households throughout North Carolina and talking with the folks who answer about the issues he hopes to address if elected.
The 59-year-old Raleigh physician wants to be the Democratic U.S. Senate nominee facing incumbent Republican Thom Tillis in next November’s general election.
Goel has filed as an official candidate with the Federal Elections Commission and plans to file in North Carolina with the State Board of Elections during next month’s filing window to have his name on the ballot alongside other Democratic candidates for the March 3 primary. Goel hopes to survive the primary and advance to next November’s general election, aiming to unseat Tillis, 59, the state’s junior U.S. Senator since 2015.
Launching his campaign a month ago, Goel has visited 22 of North Carolina’s 100 counties with plans to visit all 100 before March.
“I’m going door-to-door, knocking on people’s doors and talking to them,” he said last Friday, while doing just that in Siler City.
Some close to the candidate — this is his first attempt seeking an elected office — advised him against his nontraditional shoes-on-pavement approach, he acknowledged, telling the doctor it’s a “waste of time.”
But that’s not how he sees the hours he’s logged on the road and in neighborhoods across the state.
“How am I to represent people unless I go talk to them?” Goel said. “I have to work on representing the entire state, and the rural counties are just as important as the more densely populated ones.”
The first-time candidate paused for lunch — and more conversation with potential constituents — at the Whiskey Barrel restaurant downtown.
“I’m certainly not a career politician,” he said, “because I haven’t done this before. And I am running to address what I feel are very specific issues.”
Topping the list is health care.
“We all know we have a health care crisis that needs to be addressed,” he said. “We don’t have affordable health care access for everyone.”
He said he feels his years of experience in health care equips him to address the issue as a policymaker.
Involved for a number of years with Democratic party politics in Wake County (he has served, for example, as a precinct chair) Goel said he grew frustrated hearing potential policymakers discuss health care.
“I can tell they don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said. “I’ve been involved in a wide variety of the health care aspect.”
Goel, a native of India who moved to the United States with his family when he was 10, said he’s offered his health care expertise to numerous candidates — at no cost — so they’d “at least know the jargon,” but he said he’s had no takers. So he decided to seek office himself.
“It’s a serious issue I just feel needs to be addressed,” he said. “I don’t have all the answers, but I understand the issues and want to be part of the team that does something about it.”
Goel, a Raleigh resident for 30 years after moving here to escape the harsh winters of New York, works four days a week “for the State of North Carolina,” he said. “I’m the state medical consultant in the Division of Vocational Rehab. Our job is to help people who have medical disabilities get back in the work force. I do all my politicking, shall we say, in the evenings and Friday, Saturday, Sundays I’m on the road.”
There are, he said, “a few other issues I feel very strongly about.”
“We must do something about reducing gun violence in our country,” he said.
“I own guns,” he said. “I’ve got hand guns and long guns. And I belong to a gun club. I don’t want anybody taking away my guns.”
Though not himself a hunter, he said “I’ve yet to hear somebody tell me they need to fire 60 rounds in one minute to kill a deer.”
He also hopes to address immigration policy.
“I just feel we’ve gone down the wrong path in our society where we really need a humane immigration policy,” he said. “Some people seem to feel that Democrats are for open and porous borders. That’s ridiculous. Who would want that? I don’t want that. But separating kids and their parents hoping that will deter some from coming here. That’s not American. That’s not us. We should do something about that.”
A veteran, he served as flight surgeon for a squadron of fighter pilots in Afghanistan, Goel said he’s also concerned how the United States is treating its allies.
“We have treated our allies terribly,” he said, “and yet these monstrous dictators we call our dear friends. That hurts me greatly when I think of the people who have fought alongside us.”
Married to wife Anita and father to two grown children, Goel said he’s seeking only one term in office.
“If I can’t be part of the team that can get it done in six years, then it’s time for somebody else to try to do something different.”
But until elected, he’ll be hitting the road.
Of his unusual door-to-door campaign, he said response has been positive.
“People are so nice,” he said. “Republicans, Democrats, independents. Nobody is mean. They hear why I’m there and they listen and talk to me. Some will tell me they’re not going to vote for me. But they’re civil. It’s been very gratifying.”
Randall Rigsbee can be reached at email@example.com.
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