Thousands of boisterous supporters of Richard Carmona congregated at Arizona State University Wednesday night to hear former President Bill Clinton stump for Carmona, the Democratic nominee for Arizona’s open U.S. Senate seat.
Clinton deftly connected Carmona’s life story and professional achievements to current issues facing the nation, summarizing with a call to action: elect Carmona because he will protect programs that help Americans who hope for similar success.
Carmona dropped out of high school at 16, but earned a GED and joined the Army, where he became a Special Forces medic and received combat decorations for his service in Vietnam.
He used the GI Bill to attend community college, then four-year college and medical school. He was a doctor and later an administrator in the Pima County health care system and a professor of medicine at the University of Arizona. He also served as a Pima County deputy sheriff and led the SWAT division there. President George W. Bush tapped him to become Surgeon General in 2002, where he served for four years.
Clinton highlighted the ways that Carmona was given a helping hand from the government, namely in the form of the GI Bill and subsidized post-secondary education.
“If you believe in the legacy of the GI Bill that made this man, if you want there to be a 21st century, modern American middle class, with good education, you’ve got to vote for Rich Carmona for the United States Senate,” Clinton said.
Republicans, including Carmona’s opponent, U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, want to erode those institutions, Clinton said, to advance a minimal vision of government programs.
Without electing candidates like Carmona, who pledge to fight to maintain those programs, Clinton said, the United States could lose its competitive advantage in the world.
The crowd responded loudly and enthusiastically to Clinton’s speech, cheering for his calls to action and laughing at his Republican-aimed jests.
Several Democratic officials from Arizona were in attendance, and after Clinton’s speech, they bestowed unanimous praise on his appearance.
State Sen. David Schapira, a Tempe Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for Arizona’s 9th Congressional District earlier this year, called Clinton the “educator in chief,” based on how he used historical facts and figures to buttress his support for Carmona.
“Bill Clinton is the best teacher I’ve ever seen,” Schapira said. “But he made it personal too. He says things in a way that people will remember. He’s clear, concise and memorable.”
Corey Harris, an Army veteran and Democrat running for the Arizona House in the Ahwatukee- and Chandler-centric Legislative District 18, said he connected with Clinton’s focus on veterans.
“I loved that he talked about the success of the GI Bill and the ability to succeed in life,” Harris said.
Andrew Sherwood, another Democrat running for the Arizona House in Tempe’s Legislative District 26, said he most appreciated Clinton’s wonkier side.
“I like when Bill Clinton starts talking policy, because he knows how to deconstruct the Republicans’ logic,” Sherwood said.