President Obama and some of Arizona’s most prominent Democrats are pushing former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona to jump into the U.S. Senate race.
Former U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini said he believes Carmona will enter the fray. And former Attorney General Terry Goddard is touting Carmona as the Democrats’ best hope next year if U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords doesn’t run. Even President Barack Obama has called Carmona to urge him into the race, according to Politico.
DeConcini said he previously thought that Carmona would stay on the sidelines, but he’s now convinced that the former surgeon general will run.
“For a while, I didn’t think he was going to run. But I believe he is going to run. I think he is going to get into it,” DeConcini said. “He’s just got a lot going for him. And to me, Arizona could use a middle-of-the-road Democrat United States senator to help us balance things out.”
Carmona did not return a message seeking comment.
DeConcini acknowledged that Carmona’s late entry into the race would be a hindrance, especially considering the fundraising lead the two Republican candidates already have. U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake reported more than $2.3 million on hand at the end of September, and businessman Wil 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.
But Carmona has a nationwide network he can rely on for fundraising, and DeConcini said the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee has pledged to raise money for him.
“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,” DeConcici said.
As a former surgeon general under President George W. Bush, a former Green Beret who served in Vietnam and a law enforcement officer with the Pima County Sheriff’s Office. Carmona has enough crossover appeal to get the Republican votes that he’ll need to win a general election, DeConcini said.
Goddard agreed, saying Carmona has “a hell of a résumé.” The former attorney general said he hasn’t spoken with Carmona personally, but has been in contact with his allies in Tucson, such as DeConcini and Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik.
Goddard, the Democrats’ gubernatorial nominee in 2010, said he hasn’t definitively ruled out a Senate run of his own, but his preference is to rally behind Carmona or Giffords.
“I’m vigorously trying to push people into the race,” he said. “What I’m looking for is a moderate who would have credibility to immediately hit the ground running, to be able to raise money nationally as well as locally, and to give us a good chance to mobilize Latino voters.”
Goddard said other candidates should wait until Giffords, who is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head she suffered in a Jan. 8 assassination attempt, declares her intentions before jumping into the race. Many people, however, question whether she’ll even run for re-election to her House seat, let alone run for the Senate.
Politico reported in September that Giffords’ political advisers had met with Carmona and were urging him to run for the Senate seat, which is being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Jon Kyl.
Former Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Don Bivens is already running, and reported raising $325,000 in just his first six weeks on the campaign trail. But DeConcini and Goddard, a longtime friend of Bivens, said Democrats need a stronger candidate to legitimately challenge Cardon or Flake.
“The bottom line, I think, is if we don’t have a Carmona or a Giffords, I think the Democrats have to look hard at their stable. I figure we can’t have another (Rodney) Glassman. We can’t have another situation where you just do a sham candidate against somebody who’s going to be a very significant runner,” Goddard said, referring to the Democrats’ 2010 nominee against U.S. Sen. John McCain.
Bivens, a Phoenix attorney, said he was unfamiliar with Carmona or Goddard’s plans, and he said he expected others to consider running for Arizona’s first open U.S. Senate seat since 1994. But he said he believes he’s the best candidate, and pointed to his strong fundraising and endorsements from former U.S. Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick and Harry Mitchell, and developer and former party Chairman Jim Pederson.
“I am running because I believe I’m the best candidate. I’m the only person who’s running. I’m the only person who’s been running for months. I think we have an extremely strong candidacy as indicated by our fundraising and our organization and our website and our endorsements,” Bivens said.
He also said he will appeal to voters because he isn’t a “professional politician.”
“I think folks are a little tired of professional politicians across the board,” he said.
Tucson defense contractor David Crowe, who created an exploratory committee in June, is also eyeing the race.
Goddard said he has been impressed by Crowe, but suggested the newcomer’s first foray into politics should be something other than a U.S. Senate bid.
Giffords’ husband Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut, has also been touted as a possible candidate for either the Senate or his wife’s House seat. But Kelly hasn’t given any indications that he’ll run.
This isn’t the first time Carmona has been the target of recruitment efforts, though they haven’t always come from the Democrats’ side of the aisle. DeConcini said Bush tried to recruit Carmona to run against former Gov. Janet Napolitano in 2006, and that Republicans have also urged him the past to run against Giffords.
Carmona told Arizona Capitol Times in August that he has been a registered independent his entire life, but DeConcini said he believes the former surgeon general is now registered as a Democrat.