Arizona’s two longtime U.S. senators lambasted political newcomer Wil Cardon for what they described as inaccurate attack ads that they say will hurt Republican frontrunner Jeff Flake’s chances against a formidable Democratic opponent in the race for an open Senate seat in November.
Sen. Jon Kyl said he doesn’t want to see a repeat of the last time a Tucson Democrat was elected as a U.S. senator from Arizona, a reference to Dennis DeConcini’s 1976 election following a bruising primary that left the Republican nominee weakened. Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is also from Tucson.
“The effect of the Cardon campaign in the primary is not going to elect Wil Cardon. He hasn’t been able to establish why he should be elected. But he tears Jeff Flake down and he does in numerous ways that are … reckless, inaccurate, inappropriate,” Kyl said Friday at a press conference at Flake’s campaign office.
Sen. John McCain, too, said Cardon’s attacks could make things more difficult for Flake in the general. Recent polling has shown Carmona and Flake just a few points apart, and McCain noted that Democratic National Committee is expected to be heavily involved in the race.
“What Jon and I object to is the false ads and attacks that have been launched. I think that this will be a very tough general election campaign. I think that Jeff faces a very tough candidate,” McCain said. “Certainly, these negative ads hurt.”
President Barack Obama personally helped recruit Carmona into the race, which is widely perceived to be one of the Democrats’ best pickup opportunities in the U.S. Senate, and the former surgeon general entered the race with a pledge by the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee to help him raise money.
The endorsement was unsurprising, considering that McCain has already shown support for Flake. The senior senator had already attended at least three fundraisers for Flake, according to Roll Call.
Kyl said he long ago told candidates for the seat he’s vacating that he would “defer being involved” in the race because he thought it would be presumptuous to tell people who he wanted to replace him. But he said he’s concerned with the false picture Cardon is painting of Flake, and feels the need to speak out.
He specifically pointed to a Cardon ad that was photo-shopped to make it appear that Flake stood behind Obama during a speech, and another ad that implied that a photo of Flake speaking with other congressmen was actually him meeting with a group of lobbyists.
Kyl also took issue with Cardon’s criticism of Flake’s government-funded travel. Kyl said traveling to other countries is a critical part of senators’ jobs and is important to understanding foreign policy and national security issues. He also noted that an island excursion Flake took, which Cardon has used in his ads, was not a taxpayer-funded trip.
“The naiveté of the other candidate about what’s needed in a U.S. senator is striking,” Kyl said. “You know who else takes trips to the Middle East and to Germany at taxpayer expense? Sen. John McCain and Sen. Jon Kyl. And you do it as part of your job if you care about doing your job.”
The endorsements come at a time when Cardon is perceived as gaining momentum. The Mesa investor has spent more than $3 million of his own money on advertising and reduced a 49-point deficit in a February poll to 22 points in May.
Flake denied that the high-profile endorsements or their timing, about six weeks before the Aug. 28 primary, were panicked responses Cardon’s momentum.
“The momentum you speak of, we’ll wait for the next polls to come out,” Flake said to a reporter who asked if the endorsements were a desperation move. “We have a great campaign because we have a great message.”
Cardon, who has consistently criticized the six-term congressman Flake as a Washington insider, said he wasn’t surprised by the endorsements. Though he has deep respect for Kyl and McCain, Cardon said, both are establishment politicians who have been in Washington, D.C., since the 1980s.
“Washington insiders stick together. They do this out of fear. They’re afraid of candidates like me – conservative outsiders who represent real change, a new way of doing things, new commitment, new energy, new solutions,” Cardon said in a statement. “I’m not a Washington insider. I’m not running to simply to mimic John McCain or Jon Kyl.”
Carmona’s campaign took a shot at Flake as well, saying the endorsements were nothing more than attempt by Flake to revive a lagging campaign.
“Congressman Jeff Flake’s campaign has had a terrible week, and today’s news conference is nothing more than an attempt to stop the bleeding. Rolling out these endorsements on a rainy Friday in Phoenix weeks before ballots drop proves how desperate Congressman Flake is to turn things around,” a Carmona press release read. “Congressman Flake has been forced to spend nearly $2 million on television ads for a primary he was supposed to win easily and is rolling out his top two endorsements early. Congressman Flake’s campaign is in free fall.”
Kyl and McCain took aim at another of Cardon’s frequent talking points – that his business background and outsider status make him more qualified to serve in the U.S. Senate. They said their service in the U.S. House of Representatives served them well when they got to the Senate, and believe it will serve Flake well too.
“We were both fresh young tigers when we got to the U.S. Senate, but we had the experience of having served in the House,” Kyl said. “In Jeff Flake’s case, he’s had that experience, and he’s demonstrated the ability to get stuff done in a tough environment. Nobody has a better reputation as a reformer in Washington than Jeff Flake, unless it might be my colleague John McCain.”
McCain said Cardon’s only public service that he’s aware of was as an intern in his office. According to Cardon’s campaign, he interned in McCain’s Washington, D.C., office in the summer of 1992.
“I’m sure he did a great job. But I don’t believe that period of public service as an intern in my office qualifies him to be a United States senator,” McCain said.