The U-S Senate race in Arizona is tightening up, with less than a month to go until Election Day. In the reliably conservative state, the advantage had long been with Republican Congressman Jeff Flake. But, Democrats are trying to capitalize on a shift in momentum.
The last time Arizona had a Democratic U.S. Senator, Bill Clinton was still in his first term in the White House. But, this week, the 42nd President stumped for Democrat Richard Carmona in Tempe.
"If you want the young people to have a brighter future, if you want America to come together and not be torn apart, you can do something about it in Arizona," former President Clinton told the crowd. "You can send Rich Carmona to the United States Senate."
Recent polls have shown that to be a more realistic possibility now than earlier in the race. Both Carmona and Republican Congressman Jeff Flake acknowledge the race is tight, but Flake says he’s not surprised.
"It’s a close race. I mean, we all knew it would be, and it is," Flake said. "You know, we always assume you’re a couple of points behind, and run like that, whether you are or not. We feel good about where we are. We feel like if we have the resources to get our message out, we’ll win this thing."
Flake says if his campaign continues on its current trajectory, he’ll be in good shape on Election Night. Carmona feels the same way.
"We started out eleven months ago, when people were saying, ‘You know, it’s probably not going to be possible.’ We’ve had half a dozen polls now, and in the last polls, we’ve been tied, or we’re up", Carmona said.
As the polls have shown the race getting closer, national politicos have taken notice. The Rothenberg Political Report recently moved the contest from the lean GOP category to a toss-up/tilt GOP. Deputy Editor, Nathan Gonzales, says Mitt Romney’s strength in Arizona gives Flake a slight advantage.
"We just believe that fundamentally, the Republican tilt of Arizona is going to help the Republican nominee in this race," Gonzales predicted.
Another national political prognosticator, the Cook Political Report, has the race as a pure toss-up. Senior Editor Jennifer Duffy says even though it’s less than a month until Election Day, the campaigns still have a lot of work to do.
"Neither of these candidates is still completely known statewide," Duffy said. "Jeff Flake only represents one of eight districts, and Carmona really isn’t known much outside Tucson, or at least when he started this race."
Both candidates acknowledge increasing their name I-D is important. But, they don’t have to do all of that by themselves. As the race has gotten closer, national and outside groups have joined in…spending hundreds of thousands of dollars. But Rothenberg’s Nathan Gonzales doesn’t think this election will be decided by money.
"The race has elevated to the biggest stage in terms of competitiveness, and I think both sides are gonna have millions of dollars, and I think the battle is going to be more on messaging," Gonzales said.
Not surprisingly, a good deal of that messaging is happening on the airwaves. Both campaigns are looking for votes wherever they can find them. They’ve each released Spanish-language ads, trying to court the state’s growing Hispanic population. The national Democratic and Republican Senatorial committees have produced ads, as have SuperPACs. Democrats believe momentum is on their side in this race…Richard Carmona shares that optimism.
"The numbers are good on our side, our polling is very good, and we have a very good chance of winning the seat," Carmona said.
On the other side, Jeff Flake says after a bruising primary against businessman Wil Cardon, he’s also poised for victory.
"You know, you have to remember, people in July were saying, ‘Ah, you know, Wil Cardon, he’s got the momentum and Flake’s down,'" Carmona recounted. "We ended up winning that by 50 points. Now, I’m not suggesting we’re gonna win this race by 50 points. We aren’t. It’ll be close."
Both candidates say they’ll continue to push toward Election Day. But, early balloting has started in Arizona, so the race is already in the hands of voters.