Democratic Arizona Senate candidate and former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona is distancing himself from President Obama, even though Obama reportedly handpicked Carmona to run for office.
Carmona’s beeline from the president is characteristic of his betrayals of past political patrons, insiders say, and makes him the latest in a series of Democratic Senate candidates to disavow Obama during this election cycle.
Carmona claimed in an interview on June 4 that he has no personal or political relationship with the president.
“Let me set the record straight, OK,” Carmona said in the local television interview. “I have no connections to President Obama.”
But Carmona was “personally recruited” by Obama to run for retiring Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R., Ariz.) open U.S. Senate seat in 2012, according to reports.
Obama called Carmona last September 23 to “encourage him to run,” according to a Democratic strategist quoted by Politico.
Carmona also said that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray joined Obama in encouraging him to enter the race.
Carmona announced his candidacy last November.
“I think Dr. Carmona has a very big ego, and I think his ego was scratched very hard by President Obama and his people,” said Arizona Republican National Committeeman Bruce Ash, who has known the candidate for more than 20 years.
“Gabby Giffords was originally going to be the Democratic candidate for that seat. Arizona Democrats don’t have a very deep bench. They didn’t have anyone to take her place. So they turned to Dr. Carmona, and I think they pressured him very hard, out of a desperation to find their candidate,” Ash said.
“I would not believe the idea that Carmona running for Senate as a Democrat was in anyone’s mind back in 2007,” former Arizona GOP chairman Mike Hellon said in an interview with the Free Beacon.
Carmona served as Surgeon General in the George W. Bush administration from 2002 to 2006. His exit from the administration set a precedent for his current turn on Obama, political insiders said.
Carmona testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in 2007 that the Bush administration politicized his role as Surgeon General.
Carmona’s testimony was considered beneficial to Democratic congressman Henry Waxman’s investigation into the Bush administration’s science policies, and “burnished Carmona’s credentials with Democrats,” according to the Boston Globe.
Carmona offered to provide to the committee the names of administration officials he claimed had instructed him to politicize his work.
However, Carmona had previously bragged about his closeness to President Bush, according to testimony by Cristina Beato, Carmona’s supervisor in the Bush administration.
“And this was in years 2 and 3 of the administration, and he’s still telling people that, that he’s having breakfast with the President. It got to the point where it was embarrassing,” Beato testified.
Beato also testified that Carmona was “manipulative” and “a liar.”
“He left in a way that proved he wasn’t trustworthy,” Tevi Troy, former Bush White House policy adviser and former deputy secretary in the Department of Health and Human Services, told the Free Beacon.
“I think turning on Obama is very typical of Carmona,” said Hellon, the former GOP official. “But that’s a pattern we’re seeing across the board in Democrat circles right now.”
President Obama is highly unpopular among likely Arizona voters, according to a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling in May. He holds a 41 percent approval rating in Arizona against a 56 percent disapproval rating.
Carmona joins Democratic 2012 Senate candidates Elizabeth Warren, Claire McCaskill, and Joe Manchin, who have all distanced themselves from Obama on key issues during this election cycle.
However, Arizona Democrats from Carmona’s home county acknowledge and applaud the Obama administration’s role in selecting the former surgeon general, and believe that Carmona will help get out the vote for Obama in this year’s presidential election.
“I think Dr. Carmona’s candidacy bodes well for the state party,” Pima County Democratic Party chairman Jeff Rogers told the Free Beacon.
“It means the Obama campaign is taking Arizona seriously. This is a battleground state. We believe we can put it in play. President Obama won Pima County by 25,000 votes against favorite son John McCain in 2008,” he said.
“Carmona is a very exciting candidate for us. The coverage he’s getting in the national media reflects that. I think that he is definitely a candidate who will have some coattails,” Rogers said.
Carmona’s Puerto Rican heritage may have endeared him to a president searching for Hispanic voters, Arizona Democrats said.
“I think anyone with a ‘D’ next to their name on the ballot will win Hispanics big this year nationwide,” Rogers said.
Arizona political insiders told the Free Beacon that Obama is not expected to visit the state to campaign for Carmona—something Republicans would happily welcome given the president’s low approval rating in the state.
Carmona trails congressman and presumptive Republican nominee Jeff Flake 48 to 35 percent, according to a Public Policy Polling survey in May.