CHANDLER, Ariz. -- Arizona Democratic senate candidate Richard Carmona hit back against opponent Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) on Thursday, responding to Flake's attacks that he can't work others and suggesting that Flake has a problem with veterans.
"This is a false narrative, and it's from the playbook that he's playing from. It's the same thing they used against [Republican Arizona Sen.] John McCain in 2000 when, as a warrior, they said, 'He can't get along with people.' You remember that? 'He's just very difficult,'" Carmona said during a Thursday debate with Flake, at a golf resort. "They start these narratives, and if they say it long enough they believe people are going to catch on."
"I think it's just us veterans you're picking on, because of John and I both being warriors, but the fact is, we stood up for what's right," he continued.
Carmona is a military veteran and former deputy sheriff as well as the former U.S. surgeon general. The veteran vote is important here in Arizona, where veterans make up roughly 10 percent of the population, and Carmona has made his service -- and Flake's vote for cuts on veterans benefits -- central to his campaign for an Arizona U.S. Senate seat. Moderator Brahm Resnik of local station NBC 12 said during the forum he wanted to ask about veteran's issues, but the debate went over its allotted time because of squabbles between the candidates on other issues, leaving the issue untouched.
Each candidate attempted to paint himself as an independent thinker willing to stand up to his own party and compromise with the opposite one. Carmona was previously an independent, while Flake is a longtime Republican who votes with the GOP conference far more often than not. But each also said the other was incapable of working across the aisle and tended to blame the opposing party rather than being willing to work with it.
Carmona became frustrated with Flake for saying he was a partisan, leading to the exchange about veterans. Along with alleging he has anger issues, Flake has frequently stated that Carmona can't work with others and has been asked to leave or has not asked back from many of his jobs -- a claim the Democrat has said is flatly untrue.
"Congressman Flake, in an effort to run from his own dismal record in a lot of areas, has continued to put this narrative out to many of you accusing me of being a rubber stamp for somebody," Carmona said, referring to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "Or accusing me to be somebody that people can't get along with, and I can't figure out which one it is because it changes ... you can't be both. And the fact is, I don't know any special force guys or any SWAT guys that were told they were a rubber stamp for anybody. In fact, it's just contrary."
The race has turned nasty in the past few weeks, especially after a Flake campaign ad last week claiming Carmona has problems with women and intimidated a former female superior with his anger. The two candidates hadn't seen each other or spoken since the ad came out after a debate last Wednesday, and their debate became heated at times as the two sparred over their fiscal plans, health care and how they would help Arizona.
One tense moment was when Carmona and Flake were talking about energy, specifically a bill that Flake voted against despite originally saying it would help the state.
"What I'm hearing is anger," Flake said when Carmona raised his voice.
The debate ended, though, on a cordial note, when Resnik asked what they admired about each other. "That's a heck of a tie he's got on," Flake joked, before saying he respected Carmona's life story and military service. Carmona said he appreciated Flake's service to the country, and made a joke of his own.
"I like his hair," Carmona said. "I hope it comes with the Senate job."