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Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona jumps into crowded Senate race to succeed Kyl

By Uriel J. Garcia
Cronkite News Service

WASHINGTON – Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona announced Thursday that he will seek the Democratic nomination in 2012 to replace outgoing Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

Carmona, who has never held elected office, becomes at least the 10th candidate in a crowded field. He made his announcement Thursday in an emailed statement and could not be reached for further comment.

“Like most Arizonans, it’s clear to me that Washington is broken, and it is time for honest people with real-world experience to step forward to solve the problems we are facing and get our economy going again,” his statement said.

He is a latecomer to a field that includes three other Democrats, a Green Party candidate and five Republicans, including Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Mesa, who has a substantial fundraising lead on the other candidates.

Published reports said Carmona, who served as former President George W. Bush’s surgeon general, had been courted by many Democrats, including some in the White House, to enter the race.

While Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Tucson, had been expected to mount a Senate campaign in 2012, those plans were interrupted by the January shooting that left her severely wounded. Uncertainty about the possibility of a Giffords’ run left many hesitant to jump in to the race, according to published reports.

But Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said Thursday that Carmona would not have jumped in to the race if the doctor knew that his “friend” Giffords would be making a bid for Senate.

Carmona knows Giffords from his time as a medical professor at the University of Arizona, as a Pima County health official and as a deputy sheriff in the county.

“He’s going to win the primary,” said Grijalva. “And in the general election (Carmona) is going to be a formidable opponent for Flake.”

Before he can do that, however, he has to win the Aug. 28 primary against the other Democrats, including former Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Don Bivens.

Since announcing his bid one month ago, Bivens has raised more than $344,000 and had $284,000 on hand as of Sept. 30, the most-recent campaign filing with the Federal Election Commission.

In a statement on his campaign site Thursday, Bivens welcomed Carmona into the race and said he looked “forward to a vigorous debate and primary campaign.” While he said “some in D.C. have selected their candidate for Arizona,” Bivens touted his own endorsements from top party officials in the state and the fact that he is a lifelong Democrat.

Bivens’ fundraising pales next to Flake’s and his nearest Republican rival, Wilford Cardon. Flake reported having $2.3 million in the bank as of Sept. 30, and Cardon reported having $1.1 million on hand, according to their FEC filings.

Political analysts said that with none of the state’s Democratic House members willing to risk their seats to challenge Flake, national Democrats are turning to other options.

“Democrats right now are looking for anybody with some name recognition,” said Roldolfo Espino, a political science professor at Arizona State University.

National Republicans are calling Carmona the candidate for the “Washington Democrat establishment,” referring to the reports that White House officials had urged him to run.

“Whichever candidate emerges from this contentious Democrat primary, he’ll have a difficult time,” said Brian Walsh, director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in a statement.

The Washington is group dedicated to helping elect Republicans to the Senate.

Griljalva said that even though Carmona served under a Republican administration and is now running as a Democrat, his campaign would bring a moderate voice to a Republican-controlled state.

“Compared to the extremists on the right, I rather have him there,” Grijalva said.

Rodd McLeod, political consultant and a former Giffords’ campaign manager, said he would be helping Carmona set up his team and that a more “formal” announcement for his candidacy will be made in the coming weeks.

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