by Jim Nintzel
In the U.S. Senate race, Republican Jeff Flake and his allies have doubled down on their efforts to destroy Democrat Richard Carmona’s character—which tells us that they’re worried that Carmona’s reputation as an independent maverick is capturing the support of voters.
Carmona capitalized on the support he used to enjoy with Republicans by releasing a TV ad that repeated the praise that Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl heaped upon him during his confirmation hearing to the job of U.S. Surgeon General.
McCain called Carmona’s story “the living embodiment of the American Dream,” while Kyl said Carmona could be described as “a man for all seasons” whose “unique background will serve him well and serve us well.”
Even though the 30-second spot includes a note that the comments were made in 2002, McCain and Kyl were hopping mad about the Carmona campaign’s decision to remind voters of their words of praise, especially since they’d like to see Flake win. They released a joint statement calling the ad “deeply dishonest”:
In a deeply dishonest new TV ad, Richard Carmona implies that we support his campaign for Senate. We do not. Mr. Carmona is committed to raising taxes and government spending, increasing our nation’s already out-of-control debt, and he supports President Obama’s health care law, Obamacare. Let’s be clear: Richard Carmona’s first vote in the Senate would be for Harry Reid and the Obama agenda. As his new ad makes clear, Mr. Carmona is also willing to say or do just about anything to promote the interests of Richard Carmona, not the interests of the people of Arizona. It is shameful for Richard Carmona to try to deceive the voters inthis way. It shows that he has no credibility, and it says everything the voters of Arizona need to know about Richard Carmona’s fitness for office. Jeff Flake is our candidate. He is a courageous, independent Arizona conservative—and he’s honest.Kyl went so far as to tell the Weekly Standard that back when he was recruiting Carmona to run for Congress in Southern Arizona when Republican Jim Kolbe retired (back when Kyl didn’t have such big doubts about Carmona’s “fitness for office”), Carmona was mainly interested in whether he’d get a car and housing if he were in Congress.
The Arizona senator first clarifies his relationship with Carmona, the Democrat who served as surgeon general under Republican President George W. Bush. “I’ve had some dealings with him,” says Kyl. “We’re not friends. I had some dealings with him when he was surgeon general, and bumped into him a couple times, but it’s not like we’re more than just acquaintances.”
Nevertheless, during the 2006 election cycle, Kyl approached Carmona about running as a Republican for what was then Arizona’s Eighth Congressional District.
“I had one phone conversation with him when the Republican party was looking for a candidate to run in the congressional seat [for the seat close to Tucson], and I talked to him about it,” Kyl tells me.
But the conversation was not fruitful.
“I thought his response was odd and a little off-putting,” Kyl tells me. “He seemed more concerned about the perks of the office; he specifically asked about a house and a car, in the context of, well, he wasn’t a wealthy man and he would need to consider what went with the job. And he also seemed to think that it was just a lot of work for just two years, and having to run again, he thought, well, a position in the Senate would be a lot better to hold.”
Carmona responded earlier this week by releasing a hand-written letter he received from Kyl after from a meeting in Phoenix.
“For someone who’s ‘not so political,’ you leave an audience in awe!” Kyl gushed in the letter. “Thanks for all you did for me in Phoenix last week. I look forward to continuing our discussion at your convenience.”
Carmona tapped former U.S. senator Dennis DeConcini to back him up in the dispute—and DeConcini reminded voters of a Kyl spokesman’s explanation that a bogus statement by Kyl about Planned Parenthood on the Senate floor “was not intended to be a factual statement.”
While I’m sure that Senator Kyl would like a Republican to replace him in the Senate, playing down his previous recruitment of Dr. Carmona in the Weekly Standard to that of an isolated phone call, is not only understated, it’s not a factual statement.
When leaders on their side of the aisle believed they could exploit Dr. Carmona’s life story for partisan gain, they were his biggest supporters. If you don’t believe me, you only have to look at the long history of the Arizona Republican Party’s courtship of Dr. Carmona, as reported by the Associated Press, Arizona Daily Star, The Arizona Republic and Tucson Citizen. He was called a 'potential superstar' that would be 'a fantastic candidate' — by Republicans.
Dr. Carmona’s ad helps illustrate how false and disingenuous these character attacks have become. I’ve known Dr. Carmona for nearly 30 years. He’s fielded calls from both parties to serve. For decades, both Democrats and Republicans have sung his praises as a fair-minded leader in our community. Trying to brand him as one thing or the other ignores his decisively independent history.
My friends, Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, do not believe their laudatory statements given during Dr. Richard Carmona’s confirmation hearing to become Surgeon General have any bearing in the race for U.S. Senate: I wholly disagree. Dr. Carmona was the same person then as he is now. What has changed is party politics.