It’s the year of reform in Arizona. While Gov. Jan Brewer’s (R-AZ) now infamous finger wagging at President Obama tells another story, there are (really) signs of moderation in the Sunshine State. SB1070 mastermind Russell Pearce lost a historic recall election; controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio is facing a tough re-election race; and the general mood in Arizona is moving away from extremism towards a a more civil political tone. Given these circumstances, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona’s nascent U.S. Senate run may have what it takes to go the distance in filling retiring Senator Jon Kyl’s (R-AZ) seat.
While Arizona is still considered a deeply red state, Carmona’s inside the beltway experience coupled with a life time of service in Arizona could prove to be the right combination to break through a crowded field. The former Surgeon General under George W. Bush is also a highly decorated military Veteran, a former local law enforcement officer, and a successful businessman. It is this wide ranging skill set which could appeal to an electorate tired of putting heated political rhetoric over what is best for the state. All of that being said, Carmona – a lifelong independent running as a Democrat – may have an even more important weapon in his arsenal … and one that makes him uniquely suited to succeed in this election cycle: a record as a moderate level-headed politician.
A Public Policy Poll from late last year shows that in a head to head match-up with Republican frontrunner U.S. Representative Jeff Flake, Carmona receives 36% percent of the general election vote to Flakes 40%. This is before Carmona’s campaign had even begun in earnest. Given the stranglehold the GOP has over Arizona politics that statistic is not even the most eye-popping one of the poll.
Carmona has a huge lead among moderates in a head to head contest with Flake. He receives 46% to 16% of this important portion of the electorate. In a state that is looking to change its standing as one of the most extreme in the country, Carmona is the most moderate voice, and the general electorate is taking notice.
While Rep. Flake is the favored to win, he is facing a fractured state Republican Party torn between Tea Party ideological purity and a Republican controlled state legislature bent on cracking down on immigration, banning books, and ignoring the states sputtering economy. In a general election race where the moderate vote will likely matter, Flake will undoubtedly have to move to the far right to scare off any primary challengers who are sure to attack him over his “liberal” views on immigration and cap-and-trade. At the end of the day the state Republican Party’s extremism may only further highlight Carmona’s pragmatic brand of leadership.
As for the money race, Carmona has shown great promise. He raised $570,000 in the first six weeks of his campaign and his campaign reported that more than 300 donors had contributed. Carmona has shown he can work across the aisle, and with such a wide spectrum of donors, all eyes will be on his first quarter fundraising totals in March.
While Carmona has yet to roll out his policy platforms he has been consistent in his desire to elevate a more civil discourse. In some ways Carmona’s candidacy is already a success as it indicates that a state which has for to long catered to the extreme elements of both parties, may finally move back to the moderate traditions of its past. His campaign is still an uphill battle, but at this point at least, it looks like Arizona will give him a chance to raise a more moderate voice.