The Debate Over Debates

There are certain sillinesses that go on every election that remind us that, yes, it is time to exercise our franchise soon. For example, I got an e-mail from Ally Miller’s campaign alleging that Nancy Young Wright was messing with her signs.


One of the other biannual rituals is a candidate complaining that the other candidate will not debate them. The craziest is when a candidate agrees to several debates, but one particular debate invite being refused is a sign of a disrespect for the voters, hatred of our democratic process and a general lack of cojones.

Of course, once in a while you gotta ask if someone is ducking. Which brings us to the debate imbroglio between Jeff Flake and Richard Carmona.

Flake has agreed to a sum total of one debate
. Solitary. Singleton. Nada mas uno. What strikes me more than the number (once again, one) or refusal to have one outside of the greater Phoenix area is the length.

Half an hour.

That’s right, because the issues facing our nation can be handled in half an hour. By comparison, Jonathan Paton and Ann Kirkpatrick will be having three debates, the shortest of which will be an hour and a half. Heck, your typical Clean Elections forum featuring a couple of State Senate candidates will be longer.

So, what gives, Jeff?

Carmona Ahead?

Yes, I read the same news as you did that Richard Carmona is leading Jeff Flake by five points.

I admit that I like seeing a number that is that good. I expected that Carmona would pull a slight lead, given Flake’s primary, Carmona’s lead in money and the national mood. Five points though?

The press accounts of the poll are vague about its provenance. They all identify it as coming from a Republican firm, but not much else. I admit that I didn’t call the outlets that ran the story, but I called my usual gang of political hacks and unindicted co-conspirators to find out what they heard.

What did they hear? Not much.

Several people thought that the numbers indicated that there was an over sample of Democrats, but one person who was able to see more detailed numbers thought that independents were under sampled. If that’s the case and given how strong Carmona has been among independents, the poll could be under reading Carmona’s lead.

As for who paid for the poll, I just heard speculation. One theory is that it wasn’t a survey done for Flake’s campaign per se, but a test question on a poll done on another question, a ballot proposition, for example. These numbers sometimes get released, but mostly with the responsible firm’s name on it so they can get some publicity out of it.

The other theory I’ve heard is that it may be from a committee associated with Flake’s operation. Although the Carmona people sent out a press release yesterday touting the $1 million that the Club for Growth spent for Flake in his primary, there hasn’t been the piles of money spent by independent groups in the general election yet.

This was supposed to be a gimmie for Flake. He spent most of the last year and a half with no serious Democratic opponent. National Republican groups might not be taking it seriously yet. The theory goes that Flake’s people released the poll to let these groups know he’s got a race and could you spend money here please? Thanks.

Great, except it has also lit a fire under Democratic groups to do the same. And, why would you want to show yourself that far back when the neck-and-neck polls of the last few weeks would do the same thing?

Unless, of course, there aren’t polls that show it neck-and-neck any more…

Carmona on the Teevee

Richard Carmona is going up on TV starting tomorrow. This ad is scheduled to be on broadcast and cable stations in the Phoenix and Tucson markets.

The commercial covers similar themes to his announcement video from a few months back.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is touting a poll that shows Carmona tied with Jeff Flake. Admittedly, the poll may be an outlier (most numbers show Carmona behind but Flake with less than 50%). However, it is hard to dismiss the damage that Wil Cardon’s negative campaign did to Flake’s image with general election voters. Also keep in mind that Carmona has slightly more money in the bank than Flake. It’s been a while since the Democrat was on par with the Republican money wise in a senate race.

Wil Cardon Keep Gaining?

When this whole open senate seat bidness got underway, I thought that Wil Cardon would, at best, make it so Jeff Flake would have to blow some money in the primary. You know, run the sort of “look at me, I’m a statesman” ads that would show him to be the grown up and even help him out in the general election.

I’m starting to change my mind about that one. I’ve noticed that the talk about the race has shifted. For example, look at Flake’s last few endorsements. Both Jon Kyl and John McCain endorsed Flake, which was touted as “unusual” in press outlets and evidence that Flake needed to shore up support. Had Flake still been the Senator-in-waiting he was presented as only a few months ago, these endorsements would have been portrayed as further evidence that the establishment saw him as a sure winner.

By the way, how many Republican primary voters that had doubts about Flake were going to switch to him because of the McCain endorsement? I don’t think the eleven of them will move polling numbers.

Now we have the Sarah Palin endorsement. In January or February, her stamp of approval would have been Palin being pragmatic and picking someone with conservative cred that could actually win a general election. Now, it’s Flake being desperate. Richard Carmona’s campaign was able to put out a press release saying that with a straight face because the press sees Flake’s numbers against Cardon slipping too.

Will Cardon be the nominee? More likely, but I’m not willing to bet on it. How much money will Flake have to spend to make sure it doesn’t happen? Carmona’s people are hoping plenty.

Senate race fun I haven’t gotten to over the last week or so:

  • Carmona’s fundraising report showed that he outraised Flake last quarter. I don’t think I would have ever expected that. Flake had more cash on hand than Carmona, but he’s got to spend money in the primary. Carmona doesn’t.
  • The Carmona folks have been touting a video where Flake addressed the Rippon Society. The video was edited to take out Flake’s comments on immigration.
  • Speaking of desperation: The-relatively-moderate-on-immigration Flake’s anti-immigration attacks on Cardon. Nuff said.
  • We now have a super PAC dedicated to attacking Flake. It’s funded by members of the Walton family as well as relatives of Wil Cardon, but is “independent” of course.
  • And finally…driving North on I-10 from Tucson you may have seen the pink “McClung for US House” billboard. It now says “Van for US Senate,” presumably for talk show host, long shot candidate and “Christian Constitutional Republican” Clair Van Steenwyk.
  • Okay, that wasn’t finally: Van Steenwyk gets extra points for the Elvis tie he’s wearing on his website.

Not 1976, But…

The Richard Carmona campaign is bragging about not only the $1.1 million they raised this last quarter, but how much of it came from donors giving less than $250.

Candidates like to tout the number of donors less than $250 (in Carmona’s case, it’s 86% of their donors). It is a way of saying “I’m not the big money candidate. Why, I’m grassroots!” More importantly, the small donors can be tapped again later in the campaign, something that can’t be done with big money donors that maxed out.

This gives Carmona $1.6 million in cash on hand, which is dwarfed by Jeff Flake who has $3 million on hand. But, Flake has a primary to win, one that’s getting ugly.

I never quite bought into Wil Cardon being the Republican nominee. I still don’t. But, there is some concern about Flake’s fundraising. A report in Roll Call says that the money that one would expect to go to a candidate like Flake is not coming to him. That money will come to him in a general election (when he’s only got a matter of weeks to raise it), but his fundraising numbers have prevented him from burying Cardon, who can self fund.

Rather than being buried, Cardon is getting some momentum. He got the endorsement of the Mayor of Mesa this week.

Not that the $3 million isn’t impressive, but remember that Carmona doesn’t have to blow his money on stuff like this:

Still a Doctor

Both parties have these people called trackers. They’ll be there at candidate’s public events taking video hoping for a “maccaca moment.” Usually, these guys work for the parties. Better not to let a candidate’s campaign get sullied with something that verges so close to espionage.

Well, not really. But you know what I mean.

One such tracker has been following Richard Carmona’s campaign, likely on behalf of the Republicans. Carmona was up in Flagstaff today, ironically on one of the cooler days in Tucson.

The tracker’s battery ran down, and he took this break from his work to ask Dr. Carmona if he could have a look at a bump on his leg. Carmona, according to the Twitter feed of Carmona staffer Andy Barr, diagnosed the bump as a hematoma.

Being a professional, Carmona wanted to note that he should consult his own doctor as well.

Can Jeff Flake do that?

And I Had a Bunch of Corned Beef Jokes Ready

Richard Carmona officially has a free ride in the Democratic primary. This was e-mailed from David Ruben yesterday:

Unfortunately, after a review of our signatures, we found that we may not have had enough to continue running for the US Senate. We have withdrawn from the campaign. We want to thank all of you for your support and the opportunity to work and learn from you about the issues that affect us all. We will look forward to opportunities in the future to interacting with you again.

Best Regards David A. Ruben MD MBA

Why Now for Bivens?

I’ve had the chance to talk to some politicos about Don Bivens and his decision to drop out of the race this morning.

Some folks thought that he should have taken his name out back when Richard Carmona declared in November. It made sense for Bivens not to do that back then. After all, he had already assembled a strong campaign team (Democratic pros Reed Adamson and Jamie Paton were on board) and had a decent list of endorsers. Given Carmona’s reluctance to get in the campaign and rushed roll-out, Bivens had good reason to think that the guy wasn’t going to be the real deal.

Back then, by the way, there was talk that some party elder woud talk Bivens out of running. I haven’t heard that that actually happened, but Ann Kirkpatrick backing off of her endorsement and increasing attention being given to Carmona made much the same point.

Many of the folks I talked to pointed out that the reporting period is just about up and that Bivens’s report wasn’t going to look that great. We won’t know this for sure until reports are posted.

The more likely reason, and it’s the reason alluded to in Bivens own exit statement, is that he had only one path to the nomination: trash Carmona and spend a lot of money doing it. Bivens stepped just short of that line, trying to bill himself as the real Democrat against the independent that worked for George W. Bush, questioning Carmona’s commitment to Democratic issues. The message wasn’t working, and ratcheting it up would have crossed that line between contrast and negativity. Such a “scorced earth” campaign would have left one of two nominees: a broke Don Bivens or a tattered Richard Carmona. Neither would have been good for the party.

I was a vocal critic of Bivens during his time as party chair (that was me that printed the “Eckerstrom” stickers in 2009), but it looks like he took one for the team here.