Senate hopefuls brandish D.C. outsider status
WASHINGTON – If there is one thing the four major candidates for Arizona’s U.S. Senate seat can agree on, it’s that Arizonans don’t want to elect a business-as-usual politician this November.
So all four – even the ones who spent years in Washington – are campaigning as Washington outsiders.
Running as a Beltway outsider is not exactly a new tactic for candidates, especially in a state where Arizona Sen. John McCain made his name as a “maverick.”
But at a time when public confidence in Congress is at an all-time low, all the candidates jockeying for Sen. Jon Kyl’s soon-to-be-open seat are painting themselves as champions of fresh ideas desperately needed in gridlocked Washington.
“People are tired of Washington insiders,” said Republican candidate Wil Cardon, a wealthy Mesa investor and businessman. “I’m the only one in the race who’s been working in business for the past 20 years.”
Cardon is running against Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Mesa, the presumed favorite in the race, who has been serving in the House since 2001. Despite a decade-plus in the Capitol, Flake believes his record of vocal opposition to wasteful government spending and earmarks sets him apart and will resonate with Arizona voters.
“I can be quite many things, but a Washington insider is not one of them,” Flake said. “I’m a guy that was removed from a primary committee slot for punishment for going after Republican earmarks.”
Another candidate who spent some time in Washington is Democrat Richard Carmona, who served as surgeon general under President George W. Bush from 2002 to 2007. A one-time registered independent who served under a Republican president, Carmona has never sought elected office before.
Carmona staffers and national Democrats believe his personal history, moderate politics and track record of working with both parties makes him the candidate best equipped to straighten out the federal government.
“There are only certain kinds of candidates that can win here and Rich is tailor-made for Arizona in a way that other candidates aren’t,” said his campaign spokesman, Andy Barr.
“He’s not a politician,” Barr said. “We’re building a campaign from the outside.”
That doesn’t ring true with the other leading Democrat in the race, Don Bivens, who has been active in state politics but points to his lack of time in Washington.
“If you want change in Washington you can’t keep sending the same people back,” said Bivens, the former Arizona Democratic Party Chairman.
“I am not a creature of Washington,” he said. “I think most of the people across the country consider that a big plus.”