Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona announced that he will seek the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate.
“Like most Americans, it’s clear to me that Washington is broken and it is time for honest people with real world experience to step forward to solve the problems we are facing and get our economy going again,” Carmona said in a press statement.
Carmona enters the race with a great deal of institutional support. According to former U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee has committed to fundraising for Carmona, and Politico reported in October that President Barack Obama called the former surgeon general himself to recruit him into the race.
“I don’t know what kinds of commitments have been made. But I know I’ve talked to (Senate Majority Leader) Harry Reid and some other friends of mine back there. They’re going to raise him some money,” DeConcini told the Arizona Capitol Times.
Carmona has been an independent his entire life, but DeConcini said he believes the former surgeon general is now registered as a Democrat. Carmona spokesman Rodd McLeod said he’s not sure if Carmona is now registered as a Democrat.
“He is an independent. He’s running in this election as a Democrat because he feels the Democratic Party more reflects his values, particularly when you think about the assault on science that we’ve seen from Washington Republicans over the last several years. He opposes Republican plans to basically end Medicare and privatize Social Security,” McLeod said. “Arizona loves mavericks, and Dr. Carmona spent his life protecting people and standing up for what’s right and doing the courageous thing, not the safe thing.”
DeConcini, a friend of Carmona’s for the past 10 years, described Carmona as a “real centrist” who can win Republican votes with conservative business credentials, but is a supporter of liberal ideals such as national health insurance.
Carmona sports an impressive resume. He’s a decorated Vietnam veteran and former special forces combat medic, and spent 25 years with the Pima County Sheriff’s Office, serving as a deputy sheriff, detective and SWAT team leader.
A year after his tenure as surgeon general ended, Carmona made headlines for his 2007 congressional testimony in which he said President George W. Bush’s administration injected politics into what was supposed to be a non-political position.
“Carmona took the administration to task for muzzling him on critical issues like stem cells, emergency contraception, mental health, correctional health and climate change, as well as trying to water down a landmark report on the dangers of second-hand smoke,” Carmona’s campaign said in a press statement. “He testified, ‘The job of surgeon general is to be the doctor of a nation, not the doctor of a political party.’”
One early hiccup to Carmona’s campaign could be his recent commitment to head up a panel investigating the alleged mishandling of soldiers’ remains at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. The panel will have 60 days to complete its investigation and report its findings.
Speaking on Wednesday to the Washington, D.C. publication The Hill, Carmona downplayed the possibility that his work on the panel would interfere with a Senate run, noting that public servants often hold multiple posts at one time. McLeod would not comment on the possible, referring instead to Carmona’s comments in the article.
Carmona is the second candidate to jump into the race for the Democratic nomination, along with attorney and former Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Don Bivens. Tucson defense contractor David Crowe has formed an exploratory committee as well.
“I welcome Richard Carmona into the race and look forward to a vigorous debate and primary campaign. While some in D.C. have selected their candidate for Arizona, I am proud to have the support of hundreds of Arizonans and prominent Arizona leaders like former Congressman Harry Mitchell, former U.S. Senate nominee Jim Pederson and former Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick,” Bivens said in a press statement.
Bivens reported an impressive $325,000 raised in just six weeks in his first fundraising report. But some Democrats have been underwhelmed by his candidacy, and worried that the former party chairman wouldn’t be able to mount a serious challenge in the general election.
Republican National Committeeman Bruce Ash, a Tucsonan, said Carmona’s recruitment shows the weakness of the Democratic bench.
“If a registered independent who served in a Republican administration is the best candidate that everybody could find – or at least the president could find – in Arizona, you have to wonder about the strength of the Democrat bench in Arizona,” Ash said.
The former surgeon general also appears to have the blessing of U.S. Gabrielle Giffords’ camp, whose lack of an announcement about her political future had kept some Democratic Senate hopefuls on the fence. Politico reported in September that McLeod – who served as Giffords’ campaign manager in 2006 and 2010 and temporarily worked at her Tucson office after the Jan. 8 assassination attempt – and another Giffords political aide were urging Carmona to run.
Carmona’s announcement leaves both parties with potentially spirited primary races. On the Republican side, Mesa businessman Wil Cardon is challenging U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake in what is shaping up to be a big-dollar primary.
Flake reported more than $2.3 million on hand at the end of September, and Cardon brought in $402,000 in his first quarter of fundraising, on top of the $770,000 of his own money he’s already put into the race.
“I think he matches up well against Congressman Flake, who’s a career politician in Washington,” McLeod said of Carmona.