According to a new survey by North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, Arizona Democrats might actually have a shot at beating Republican golden-boy Congressman Jeff Flake in the 2012 race to replace U.S. Senator Jon Kyl.
If they nominate former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona instead of ex-Arizona Democratic Party Chair Don Bivens, that is.
Though the poll shows Flake with massive name recognition and considerable appeal among Dems, it also reveals that Carmona, who served as Surgeon General under President George W. Bush, comes within four percentage points of tying Flake in a hypothetical match-up, 40-36.
Whereas Bivens trails Flake by 10 points, 42-32. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 percent.
Carmona, 62, is a former Special Forces medic, a Vietnam Veteran, and the recipient of the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. Originally from New York City and of Puerto Rican heritage, he also served as a deputy sheriff in Pima County, and moved back to Tucson after leaving the Bush administration.
The poll shows Carmona to have crossover appeal with Rs, despite being openly critical of the Bush administration after his Surgeon General gig. Carmona complained of being censored by the Bush White House, which, he said, stifled statements he wished to make about stem cell research and second-hand smoke.
A self-described "radical centrist," Carmona's name has been floated in the past as a possible GOP candidate for various political offices. He was recruited by Dems to seek the party's 2012 Senate nod.
By comparison, Bivens is perceived by many Ds as a weak candidate, alienated from the grass roots of the party due to an aloof leadership style during his tenure as state party chair.
On the Republican side, Flake is being challenged by dark horse Wil Cardon, a baby-faced neophyte with stacks of cash.
Cardon differentiates himself from the Congressman by asserting that he's a true-blue Mexican-basher, unlike Flake, who not too long ago carried the banner of Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
In any case, Cardon looks like a Buzz Mills in the making. Democrat-wise, Bivens is a mat-kisser only other deep-pocket lawyers could get giddy over.
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Flake-Carmona? Well, at least according to PPP's Director Tom Jensen, that head-to-head might offer us some drama.
In a statement accompanying the poll results, Jensen writes:
"With the Senate landscape in 2012 offering Democrats few opportunities for offense these numbers suggest Arizona may provide the party's 3rd best chance of picking up a GOP held seat next year, behind only Massachusetts and Nevada."
Stranger things have happened, particularly in Sand Land of late.