Democrat Rich Carmona Races Toward the U.S. Senate

Bill Clinton electrifies the crowd during a rally for Rich Carmona's U.S. Senate campaign.

The rock star of American politics is with Carmona on a stage erected on Arizona State University's Performance Lawn for a "Get Out The Vote" rally the day before early voting began October 11.

Clinton, Carmona standing at his side, elicits a thunderous roar from the crowd of more than 5,500 attendees — including a throng of young undocumented immigrants who call themselves DREAMers — when the 42nd president of the United States drawls that adopting "the DREAM Act is the right thing to do."

Carmona is a staunch supporter of the federal legislation aimed at creating a path toward citizenship for undocumented youth. Because it offers the potential for life-changing opportunity, he often compares the DREAM Act to the GI Bill, a law that, among other things, covers education expenses for veterans. Carmona, who grew up poor and served in Vietnam, used the benefits to pay for college and medical school.

"There are a lot of Richard Carmonas out there, and they all deserve their chance at their dreams," the former Democratic president declares, drawing more cheers.

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Unlike his opponent, Congressman Jeff Flake, who hardly grew up poor and never served in the armed forces, Carmona has maintained consistent support for allowing certain undocumented students an opportunity to earn citizenship by joining the military or working toward college degrees.

About six months earlier, the former surgeon general under another U.S. president, Republican George W. Bush, had stood in front of a room, delivering the same message to the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition.

Over Carmona's shoulder was a giant portrait of Martin Luther King Jr., a universal symbol of social justice. And it's social justice that Carmona pledges to pursue as he speaks to the audience filled with DREAMers.

One of them asks the onetime darling of Republicans whether he will flip-flop on his support of the DREAM Act.

"You never saw me flip-flop," Carmona responded. "On immigration, I've always stood firm . . . I ask you to trust me on that."

Carmona, an Independent before he became a Democrat to seek the Senate seat getting vacated by Republican Jon Kyl, tells New Times that if he's elected, he will lean on the president — whomever voters choose on November 6 — to make the DREAM Act a top priority.

"We should do everything we can to give these youngsters opportunity," he says.

The measure once enjoyed bipartisan support but now is demonized as backdoor amnesty by Tea Party extremists. And that has forced Republicans with moderate views, like Flake, to scurry to the far right to garner political support from the GOP base.

The old Flake, who has represented Arizona's 6th Congressional District since 2001, sponsored multiple comprehensive immigration-reform bills. The old Flake pushed for guest-worker programs for immigrants.

The congressman's campaign didn't return repeated calls for an interview for this story. On Flake's website, however, he explains that he "no longer" supports broad immigration reform.

"I've been down that road, and it is a dead end," he writes. "The political realities in Washington are such that a comprehensive solution is not possible or even desirable given the current leadership. Border security must be addressed before other reforms are tackled."

As for Carmona, he professes a desire to change such realities and reminded the DREAM Act Coalition audience in April of his "commitment to not being a politician but being honest on these issues."

Smiles spread across the faces of the hopeful young immigrants.

The race for the seat that Jon Kyl held for nearly two decades not only is pivotal for DREAMers desperate for an advocate in Washington, its outcome will signal whether Arizona stays a Republican stronghold or becomes a state where Democrats once again can win the highest offices.

It also is one of about a dozen races across the nation poised to determine the balance of political power in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats currently hold a 53-47 majority over Republicans. (Independent senators Joseph Lieberman and Bernard Sanders tend to vote with Democrats.)

Analysis is fluid, as is the Democrats' and Republicans' momentum.

Real Clear Politics, which provides a nonpartisan view of the nation's political landscape, sees 46 seats in Senate going to the Democrats, while 43 are likely to remain in Republican control. That leaves 11 up for grabs in the currently Democrat-controlled Senate — the seat Kyl is leaving in Arizona being one.

Most political pundits dismissed Arizona as a battleground state in the presidential race, assuming it would go to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, just as it had to favorite son Senator John McCain four years ago. But recent polls — even those conducted by GOP-friendly organizations — have shifted the race for the White House in Arizona from leaning toward the GOP to a statistical dead heat to Republican-leaning again.

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Monica Alonzo
Contact: Monica Alonzo