by Jim Nintzel
Public Policy Polling has released a new poll showing that Republican newcomer is closing the gap with Congressman Jeff Flake in the race for the retiring Jon Kyl's U.S. Senate seat.
Meanwhile, Flake continues to hold a 13-point lead over likely Democratic nominee Richard Carmona.
Republican Senate primaries not going the way they're expected to has become the new norm over the last two election cycles, and there are indications Arizona could be the next state with some upset potential. PPP's newest poll finds that Wil Cardon has cut 27 points off of Jeff Flake's lead over the last three months. Flake still has a solid advantage of 22 points, 42-20, but it's a far cry from the 49 point lead he had at 56-7 when PPP surveyed the state in February.
Cardon's early advertising appears to be having an impact. His name recognition has nearly doubled from 17% to 35% and the numbers suggest that as he continues to become better known he may pull even closer to Flake- among voters who have an opinion about Cardon, whether it's a positive or negative one, he trails only 45-35.
What's interesting about Cardon's improved competitiveness is that it doesn't seem to be driven by ideology. Flake is actually beating him by a wider margin with voters describing themselves as 'very conservative'- 51-21- than he is overall. The decrease in support may be more an anti-politician thing than a 'he's not conservative enough' one.
The primary may be getting closer but Flake is still clearly the stronger Republican candidate for the general. He leads Richard Carmona 48-35, while Cardon has only a 40-37 advantage on the likely Democratic nominee. Things have changed little for the general since PPP's February poll. At that time Flake had a 46-35 advantage against Carmona and Cardon was up 37-33.
Despite the current lead for the GOP there's still reason to think this will end up being a closely contested race. Only 34% of voters are familiar with Carmona, putting him well behind Flake (60%) and even Cardon (40%) for name recognition. Carmona actually leads both Flake and Cardon among voters who have an opinion about him, suggesting he will gain once the name recognition gap closes as the election moves nearer.
For now Flake is benefiting from a 16 point lead with independents (48-32) and from getting an almost equal share of the Republican vote (71%) to what Carmona's pulling among Democrats (73%). For a Democrat to win in Arizona is generally going to require getting a healthy amount of GOP crossover support and winning independents, and right now Carmona's not there.
Republicans certainly remain favored in this race but with the potential for an upset in the GOP primary or at least a nasty contest that leaves the eventual nominee bruised this remains a sleeper race for Democrats as they seek to hold onto control of the Senate.
With PPP polling in Arizona, might we get some poll numbers on the race between Democrat Ron Barber and Republican Jesse Kelly in the June 12 special election to complete Gabrielle Giffords' term?