Arizona: Barbs Turn Personal Among Richard Carmona, Jon Kyl and John McCain

Posted October 30, 2012 at 12:01am

The Arizona Senate race has taken a nasty and personal turn in the final days, highlighted by increasingly sharp barbs between GOP Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain and former Surgeon General Richard Carmona (D).

The spat caps a tumultuous year for the Arizona delegation and politics in the state, and there is little to indicate relationships will improve in the next Congress — especially if Carmona wins the Tossup race.

Carmona faces Rep. Jeff Flake (R) in the race to replace Kyl, who is retiring. But recently Kyl and McCain have played starring roles in battering Carmona, while Flake is hardly in the fray at all.

In an interview, Kyl said he had pondered what the nasty race could mean for relations between the state’s Senators if Carmona is victorious. But he said he is confident that Flake will win and that the questions about Carmona getting along with McCain are moot. This is the nature of politics, he said.

“In the heat of a campaign, things happen,” Kyl said. “I’m not one to carry these grievances. …When a campaign’s over, it’s over.”

But the words exchanged have been harsh. In recent days, Carmona called Kyl “disingenuous.” In a new Flake TV ad featuring Kyl and McCain, McCain said Carmona “lacks integrity.”

“I used the word deceitful, so we’re even,” Kyl said, when he was informed of Carmona’s words.

According to Kyl, the gloves are now off because of the TV spot Carmona released Thursday night. The mischievous ad spotlights voiceovers from McCain and Kyl praising Carmona during his Bush-era surgeon general confirmation hearings.

Kyl said the “thing that sticks in our craw” is that Carmona could have made the point that he had the respect of both Senators but that it “could have been done differently.”

Since then, angry press releases and words have been exchanged.

But Kyl went further than McCain, offering up his account to the Weekly Standard of his effort to recruit Carmona (who has long been a registered Independent) to run for Congress in 2006 in Tucson. In Kyl’s telling, Carmona was overly interested in the financial perks of serving in Congress rather than public service.

A source who worked at the National Republican Congressional Committee at the time who is now loosely aligned with the Flake campaign corroborated Kyl’s view of Carmona as a House candidate. The source declined to go on the record.

Carmona and his campaign have questioned the accuracy of Kyl’s statements and various news organizations have reported and litigated the frequency, form and context of those conversations.

Kyl said Monday evening that memories differ about conversations that took place six or seven years ago, but he insists only one substantive discussion took place with Carmona on the topic of running for Congress. That conversation left a bad taste in his mouth and was off-putting.

“All I know is the impression I came away with and what I did as a result about it,” Kyl said.

This latest flare-up sets the stage for what could be a divided delegation — and the fault lines will not always be partisan. Redistricting was brutal on the GOP this year. The Member-vs.-Member primary between GOP Reps. Ben Quayle and David Schweikert got extremely nasty and divided the delegation. Kyl and McCain backed Quayle, who lost. Meanwhile, Rep. Trent Franks (R) endorsed Flake’s GOP primary rival.

Keeping track of who was on whose team was a mind-boggling exercise, and in a few months, the new delegation will have to address those issues.

“Our delegation has not been nearly as functional as it used to be,” Kyl said. “There are other reasons I would just assume not get into.”

And Kyl conceded that he recently discussed the concern “with one Member of our House delegation,” and the two of them are “looking for ways to bring people together.”