“You know, having walked in those shoes of being hungry and being homeless — the indignities of not getting health care, or waiting in the public hospital, hoping somebody will care for you; going to sleep with a toothache because you can’t go to the dentist,” he said. “I think it was, in retrospect, almost a gift of experience to me that sensitized me to the complexity of the world that we inherit today.”
Republicans tried to recruit Carmona to challenge both Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) and then-Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) in 2006, but he declined. This time around, it was Obama who did the recruiting, calling Carmona in September to encourage him to run.
Carmona, who was registered as an independent until November, is unopposed on the Democratic side after former state party chairman Don Bivens dropped out of the race in March.
His likely GOP opponent is Rep. Jeff Flake, a six-term member of Congress whose strategy suggests that he will run against both Carmona and Obama.
“For Richard Carmona, having the president’s support — that’s nothing I would want to tout very loudly,” Flake said in an interview after a recent town hall meeting in Fountain Hills, a suburb about 30 miles outside Phoenix.
He added with a laugh: “I would welcome the president to come here and campaign with my opponent.”
Carmona played down his relationship with Obama, whom he first met briefly in 2005 when they both appeared on “Larry King Live” together nine days after Hurricane Katrina reached its peak.
“Here’s my thought: My focus really is about my campaign,” Carmona said. “The president has to run his campaign as he sees fit, and whatever he thinks is correct. I have to run my campaign that way.”
Sitting on a couch in the darkened lobby of the community center after his town hall meeting, Flake discounted the attention Arizona will attract in the presidential election. The stakes for the Senate, he said, will be higher. In its 100-year history, there have been fewer senators from Arizona than presidents.
“In 100 years, we’ve only had 10 U.S. senators,” Flake said. Five of those were Democrats and five were Republicans. “They tend to serve a long time,” he added, “so we’ve got to choose carefully.”