Jeff Flake (R-AZ), the current representative for Arizona’s 6th congressional district, handily defeated Wil Cardon in the Tuesday’s statewide congressional party primaries, winning with approximately 70% of the vote total in comparison to Cardon’s 21%, in Tuesday’s Republican primary race to fill the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) . Two other Republicans were in the four-way race; Clair Van Steenwyk, who received about 6% of the vote, and Bryan Hackbarth, who received about 4% of all ballots. While most major media outlets attempted to portray the race as divisive and harmful to the prospect that Republicans could retake the U.S. Senate, yesterday’s election results put those assertions to rest. Cardon spent approximately $6 million dollars of his own money buying advertising and attempting to portray Flake as soft on immigration and a Washington insider, while the Flake campaign charged Cardon as being hypocritical on his immigration stance, as a result of news stories related to Subway restaurants that were accused of hiring illegal immigrants and that had financial ties to Cardon.
With the victory, Flake now moves on to the general election contest for the Senate seat, facing off against Democrat Richard Carmona, who ran unopposed in Tuesday’s Democratic Senate primary. And while Democratic strategists might still perceive Carmona as the antidote to Republican dominance in Arizona senatorial politics, Tuesday’s vote totals did not produce an abundance of support for Carmona. With seven precincts still not reporting, and vote totals from 99.6% of all Arizona precincts in, Carmona had received 242,825 votes. Compare this with Flake’s total with the same percentage of votes tallied, which was at 289,743 in a four way race with three other competitors, who had tallied between them 128,245 votes. With almost all the votes tallied, Carmona’s campaign trailed Republican vote totals by approximately 175,000 votes
For months now, Democrats in Arizona have been touting Richard Carmona, who served as Surgeon General of the United States under President George W. Bush from August 5, 2002 until July 31, 2006, as the man destined to become the first Latino U.S. Senator from Arizona in the state’s 100 year history. President Barack Obama contacted Carmona to urge him to run for the Senate in 2011, which was widely reported in the press, and spoken about by one unnamed Democratic strategist at that time. Last year, Alexander Burns in POLITICO published these remarks about President Obama and Richard Carmona: “On September 23, President Obama called Richard Carmona to encourage him to run,” said one Democratic strategist. “The president said Carmona would certainly shake up the race. Carmona emphasized in the conversation that he would be a very independent voice in the Senate.”
In early June of this year, Carmona sought to distance himself from President Obama, issuing this statement in an interview with 3TV: “Let me set the record straight, OK,” Carmona told 3TV. “I have no connections to President Obama.” Carmona described his private conversation with the commander-in-chief as one of many he had with Democrats and Republicans while deciding whether or not to run. Obama did call and encourage him, Carmona said, but, “he didn’t twist my arm.”
Before the two spoke over the phone, Carmona said he’d met Obama one time on the set of a television talk show several years ago. At the time Obama was still a U.S. senator, Carmona was working for the Republican George W. Bush administration. “That’s the only relationship we had,” Carmona said.
During the full interview, Carmona wanted to make certain that it was clear that President Obama’s contact was one of simple encouragement, rather than all out endorsement. Carmona said that as he was contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate, he “spoke to as many Republicans as I did Democrats”. While Carmona insists that he was not the chosen candidate of the Obama administration to be the Democrat standard-bearer in the Arizona general election for Kyl’s Senate seat, Carmona’s background certainly does match well with President Obama’s philosophy about health issues, and health care generally.
Richard Carmona is best known as the U.S. Surgeon General who, in 2006, released a Surgeon General’s report on secondhand smoke, and called for a ban on smoking indoors in any publicly managed or owned facility, while at the same time encouraging similar bans on restaurants, bars, and within office settings. Prior to Carmona’s release of the Surgeon General’s report on secondhand smoke, Carmona had given testimony before Congress stating that he, “would not object to a ban on all tobacco products if Congress chose to go that way.”
Notwithstanding the hopes of Arizona’s Democrats, Tuesday’s election results certainly put Flake well on his way to becoming the next U.S. Senator from Arizona. While Democrats and Carmona can walk away with a respectable vote total from Tuesday’s primary contests, 175,000 votes remains a very big gap between voters who chose to vote for Carmona Tuesday, and those who voted for Flake and the Republicans. At this point in time, it is clear that this fall’s campaign for Senate in Arizona is one in which it is Flake, and not Carmona, who controls his own destiny. The momentum lies with Flake, and unless Carmona has the ability to find a way to appeal to white voters in greater numbers, Flake’s next victory could be almost as big as the one he claimed Tuesday night.