GOP distances itself from past ties to Carmona
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
PHOENIX (AP) — With a third of Arizona's voters declared independents, the race for Arizona's open U.S. Senate seat is shaping up to be a contest over former Surgeon General Richard Carmona's true political credentials.
Republicans are painting Carmona, the Democratic nominee for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jon Kyl, as a hand-picked rubber stamp for President Barack Obama.
But Carmona, who served under President George W. Bush and who until late last year was a registered independent, is crying foul, noting that state Republican leaders such as Kyl and Gov. Jan Brewer in the past tried to recruit him to their side.
Carmona called the Republican campaign against him "disingenuous and very disappointing."
Republicans acknowledge recruiting Carmona, however, Kyl said in an email, "that was before he criticized President Bush, took partisan positions right out of the Democrats' playbook, and revelations surfaced in the news about problems he had with Bush (administration) people."
Kyl added that either Carmona "was misleading about his views then or has no problems totally switching them."
The stakes are high.
The outcome of the race between Carmona and Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake could determine the whether the Senate is controlled by Democrats or Republicans. If the GOP picks up four Senate seats in the November elections, it would have a majority.
While Arizona's electorate is split nearly evenly between Republicans, Democrats and independents, the GOP traditionally commands the highest turnout. Republicans control the Arizona governor's office, congressional delegation and state Legislature.
Matt Canter, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, says the Republican emphasis on dismissing its past ties to Carmona "shows their level of panic" in the Senate race.
Carmona said in a recent telephone interview that he was first approached by Republican leaders in 2005, when former Bush adviser Karl Rove and Brewer were among a "small contingent of Republican leaders" who came "to my surgeon general office and made the pitch that I should consider stepping down early and run as a Republican for Congress."
He said they noted his independent political background and status as a disabled veteran as attributes that would make him a strong candidate.
In a later meeting in Tucson, he said Republican leaders "asked me about my approach to business, immigration, the border. They said we'd really like you to run. But I just thought it was more important to be the doctor of the nation. I didn't go to Washington as a stepping-stone."
Rove denied trying to recruit Carmona for a political run.
"That is simply not true," he said in a phone call Monday night. "He had a long-standing interest in running for office but the White House's view is that it was simply inappropriate" while he was surgeon general.
Carmona said Republicans also sought him to run for governor.
Flake campaign spokesman Andrew Wilder said that while "some may have tried to get Richard Carmona to run for office in the past, it took President Obama and the Democrat Party to get him to actually say 'yes.'"
Wilder added, "Now that he's the Democrat nominee, Carmona is bending over backward to hide his ideological affiliation with his party from Arizona voters."
Bruce Merrill, a public opinion expert at Arizona State University, says the independent vote could play a role in the Senate race.
But ultimately, he says, Carmona's chances depend on how well President Barack Obama does in the state and whether the Democratic Party provides enough support.
"I think if the election were held today, Carmona would not win," Merrill said, adding, "But if you look at his resume, he is a serious candidate."
If the Democratic Party "puts a lot of money into the campaign," Merrill said, "it could be the deciding race in terms of how the Senate is going to go nationally."