Wednesday was a big day for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Richard Carmona, a former U.S. surgeon general who is vying to be Arizona’s first Latino senator.
Carmona met with his challenger, Republican Congressman Jeff Flake, Wednesday night for their first televised debate. Afterwards, the Democratic candidate joined former President Bill Clinton at a get-out-the-vote rally held at Arizona State University.
Results of an internal poll for Senate Democrats showing Carmona with a 4 percent lead over Flake were also released Wednesday. The poll results, outlined in a memo obtained by POLITICO, show Carmona ahead with 47 percent to Flake’s 43 percent. The release of the poll findings came a day before early voting began in Arizona.
Though Flake is trailing the Democratic candidate, he is still favored to win the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jon Kyl, who served three terms. However, Carmona is making gains among voters and is proving to be a competitive candidate.
Richard Carmona’s resume appeals to voters
Political analysts say part of Richard Carmona’s increasing popularity is partly due to his lengthy resume and diverse background that appeals to a broad group of voters.
The Democratic candidate was born and raised in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood to Puerto Rican parents who had drug and alcohol problems. After dropping out of high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He went on to become a decorated military veteran, a trained surgeon, a medical professor and a deputy sheriff.
In 2002, President George W. Bush nominated Carmona to be U.S. surgeon general. Carmona served for four years, during which time he was advised by several politicians to run for office as a Republican.
Carmona was a registered Independent until last November when he was encouraged by President Barack Obama to run as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate.
If he is victorious, Carmona could add to his long list of accomplishments his triumph of becoming the first Latino to represent Arizona in the Senate. On Wednesday, Clinton traveled to Arizona to help him achieve that.
Clinton rallies for Richard Carmona
Clinton spoke to several thousands of people at a get-out-the-vote rally Wednesday night and made the case for Richard Carmona’s election.
“You have to vote for Richard Carmona,” Clinton repeated throughout his speech.
Clinton energized the crowd by telling them what they could expect under Carmona’s leadership. For example, he told them, “If you believe in ‘we’re all in this together’ better than ‘you’re on your own,’ then you need to vote for Carmona.”
The former president also paralleled Carmona’s stance on several issues, including healthcare, with the Obama administration. He said it is government programs, like the G.I. bill, that have given Carmona and many others the opportunity to thrive. Those same government programs, Clinton said, help build a strong middle class.
Speaking to the younger crowd, Clinton made references to President Obama’s student loan law that “opens doors for people.” He also mentioned his support for the DREAM Act, a bill that would pave a path to citizenship for undocumented youth who have grown up in the U.S.
“The reason why the DREAM Act is the right thing to do is because … they all deserve their chance,” Clinton said.
Carmona also showed his support for the DREAM Act during Wednesday night’s rally at ASU.
“You guys hang in there because we are going to resolve this problem,” Carmona told dozens of undocumented youth who attended the rally.
Carmona and Flake on immigration
The DREAM Act was also brought up in Wednesday’s debate.
Carmona reiterated his support for the bill while, Jeff Flake said he would support it but only “if it has certain provisions in it.”
One of the provisions Flake said he opposes is mandating states to allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. However, the current DREAM Act bill, which he voted against in 2010, doesn’t include that requirement.
However, Flake also said he does support legalizing this group of young immigrants and that he doesn’t believe they should be required to go back to their native country and apply to reenter the U.S.
On the issue of an immigration reform, the two candidates offered different responses.
Flake said he supports a “broad-based immigration reform.” This includes doing more to secure the border before talking about legalizing some of the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
“Until we have better border security, nobody will trust the federal government to move ahead on the other items,” he said.
Carmona disagreed with Flake saying, “We need comprehensive immigration reform now and there is no sense in stalling.” Carmona added that as a deputy sheriff who worked along the Southern border for many years, he understands the border better than most people.
“It’s not just a theoretical construct or a briefing paper,” he said of the border. “I’ve been there. I’ve seen it, and the fact of the matter is that it is a dynamic issue.”
The candidates’ stance on other issues
Immigration was just one of the issues discussed during Wednesday night’s debate. Healthcare was another big issue addressed in the debate.
Like most Republicans, Flake supports doing away with the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act.
Meanwhile, Carmona said “both parities got it wrong” and failed to understand the healthcare issue. When asked during the debate Wednesday if he would have voted in favor of the healthcare law, he said, “I wouldn’t have voted for it the way it was” and outlined his healthcare plan.
He said he supports eliminating wasteful spending as well as fraud and abuse of the healthcare system. He also said he supports “the aspiration to ensure that every American has access to a basic set of healthcare benefits” as well as a stronger focus on preventive care.
Flake insisted that his Democratic challenger was not offering a concrete plan on healthcare and was quick to criticize Carmona on was his inability to present specific plans for other issues.
“My opponent has a great resume, but a resume is not a plan,” Flake said. “He’s been running for nearly a year now, and we still don’t know where he stands on the major issues of the day.”
However, Carmona was quick to shift the conversation to Flake’s record on veterans.
Carmona noted that his opponent voted against the Post 9/11 GI Bill for veterans. The law provides veterans with financial aid that covers tuition and fees to attend a public university.
Flake responded saying Carmona’s attacks were “deplorable.” He assured that he does care about veterans and noted that Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam veteran, recently came to his defense on veterans’ issues.