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Senate candidate Carmona gets bipartisan nod from City Council

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Senate candidate Carmona gets bipartisan nod from City Council

  • Richard Carmona is shown here as surgeon general, a post he held under Republican President George W. Bush, but he is running for Senate as a Democrat.
    President’s Council on Physical Fitness and SportsRichard Carmona is shown here as surgeon general, a post he held under Republican President George W. Bush, but he is running for Senate as a Democrat.

Richard Carmona, a former U.S. surgeon general who's seeking the Democratic nomination for the Senate, was endorsed by all six of Tucson's City Council members, his campaign said Tuesday.

Carmona, who wants to succeed the retiring Republican Jon Kyl, will face Don Bivens in next year's primary. On the GOP side, Phoenix-area Rep. Jeff Flake leads a crowded field, at least in fundraising.

The independent-minded Carmona, 61, has long been courted by both parties. He served as U.S. surgeon general under President George W. Bush, and publicly chafed at the political restraints placed on him.

Carmona, who has never held elected office, last month became a latecomer to a field that includes three other Democrats, a Green Party candidate and five Republicans.

In 2006, the GOP tried to recruit the well-known Latino to run for the CD 8 House seat, but he declined.

"His personal story is absolutely compelling and speaks to a man of great character — a self-made success story who has been deeply invested in our community," said Republican Councilman Steve Kozachik.

"Since he is running for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat, from a political standpoint, I don't have a dog in that fight," Kozachik said in a press release from Carmona's campaign.

"And yet, from the standpoint of wanting to see a person emerge from that primary who I believe would best represent us with a set of values that very much mirror my own, I most certainly have a dog in that fight. Dr. Carmona is Southern Arizona's own local hero. I'm honored to be associated with a person of his caliber," Kozachik said.

"I am deeply grateful for the unanimous support of my hometown city council, and even more grateful that they're working hard to help me win this election," Carmona said.

More from the release:

"Rich Carmona has overcome significant obstacles in order to achieve success in our country," said Regina Romero, who represents Ward 1. "He is an example to our children who demonstrates that hard work, education and a commitment to community can transform your life. As a councilwoman, a former youth organizer and a mother, I am proud to endorse Rich Carmona, and look forward to calling him my Senator."

"I know the pride that comes with having served in the US Army Reserve as a medic, so I have deep respect for the courage and bravery shown by Rich Carmona," said Councilman Paul Cunningham, who represents Ward 2. "He earned two purple hearts and two Bronze Stars risking his life for his fellow soldiers, and his commitment to doing the right thing is second to none."

"Dr. Carmona's commitment to public health tells us all we need to know about his integrity," said Karin Uhlich, who represents Ward 3. "He stood up to political pressure when he released a groundbreaking report on the health risks of second-hand smoke, prioritizing our nation's health over partisan politics. His commitment to public health informs his belief that government should not interfere with the private medical decisions between a woman and her doctor."

"I ran a successful Arizona small business for years, so I am looking for very specific qualities in a US Senator, " said Councilwoman Shirley Scott, who represents Ward 4. "Those include discipline, an understanding of our economy, and a commitment to the well being of all families, not just those who have achieved financial security. I find those qualities in Dr. Richard Carmona."

"Richard Carmona has the ability to make change. I watched him do it in Pima County, Arizona and nationally," said Councilmember Richard Fimbres, who represents Ward 5. "In the fields of law enforcement, public health and highway safety, Richard Carmona has showed his commitment, knowledge and expertise in providing solutions for our community. I am excited that Richard Carmona is running for the U.S. Senate."

While U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had been expected to mount a Senate campaign in 2012, those plans were interrupted by the January shooting that left her severely wounded. Uncertainty about the possibility of a Giffords' run left many hesitant to jump in to the race

But U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva said last month that Carmona would not have jumped in to the race if the doctor knew that his "friend" Giffords would be making a bid for Senate.

Carmona knows Giffords from his time as a medical professor at the University of Arizona, as a Pima County health official and as a deputy sheriff.

"He's going to win the primary," said Grijalva. "And in the general election (Carmona) is going to be a formidable opponent for Flake."

No stranger to controversy, Carmona's been in the spotlight for decades.

In 1992, Carmona dangled at the end of a 75-foot rappelling rope, as deputies conducted a helicopter rescue of a survivor of a Medivac helicopter crash in the Pinaleño Mountains near Safford. Piloting the rescue chopper was Loren Leonberger, who died in a crash in January 2011.

As a Pima County deputy sheriff in 1999, Carmona shot and killed a mentally-ill man after the man fired a shot at him. The man, an ex-convict, was assaulting someone else, and had shot and killed his father earlier that day.

Carmona's tenure as surgeon general was marked by repeated conflicts with the Bush administration. After leaving office, he testified to Congress that he had been prevented from speaking out on global climate change, stem cell research, emergency contraception and abstinence-only sex education.

He also said the Bush administration tried to "water down" his report on second-hand smoke.

The leading Republican in the race is U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, who is backed by Club for Growth and other conservative groups. Flake has banked $2.3 million for the race, while GOP hopeful Wil Cardon has raised $1.1 million.

Political analysts said that with none of the state's Democratic House members willing to risk their seats to challenge Flake, national Democrats are turning to other options.

"Democrats right now are looking for anybody with some name recognition," said Roldolfo Espino, a political science professor at Arizona State University, interviewed last month when Carmona announced.

National Republicans called Carmona the candidate for the "Washington Democrat establishment," referring to the reports that White House officials had urged him to run.

"Whichever candidate emerges from this contentious Democrat primary, he'll have a difficult time," said Brian Walsh, director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in a statement last month. The Washington is group dedicated to helping elect Republicans to the Senate.

Griljalva said that even though Carmona served under a Republican administration and is now running as a Democrat, his campaign would bring a moderate voice to a Republican-controlled state.

Cronkite News Service’s Uriel J. Garcia contributed to this story from Washington, D.C.

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