In the hours before Democrat Richard Carmona and Republican Rep. Jeff Flake face off in their first debate, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) released an internal poll showing Carmona leading in the increasingly tight race for the Arizona Senate seat.
The poll, conducted by Harstad Strategic Research, Inc., found Carmona ahead with 47 percent to Flake’s 43 percent.
The poll found Carmona successfully wooing non-Democratic voters. It shows Carmona with a narrow edge among independent voters, leading 51 percent to 47 percent, and he pulls more Republican voters than Flake pulls Democrats: Carmona gets 17 percent of Republicans, compared to Flakes’ 73 percent; while Flake gets the vote of only 7 percent of Democrats to Carmona’s 84 percent.
“I think the poll is consistent with everything else we’ve seen, which is that we’ve got the momentum in this race,” Carmona Communications Director Andy Barr said.
Still, Carmona faces an uphill battle in Arizona, where Republicans boast a six-point registration advantage. The poll accounted for that – overcompensating, in fact: The sample of 602 likely voters is 39 percent Republican and 30 percent Democrat.
The poll also found that Carmona is also more well-liked than Flake: Thirty-nine percent of Arizona voters hold a favorable view of him, compared to 24 percent who hold an unfavorable view. Thirty-six percent of voters see Flake favorably, while 38 percent see him unfavorably.
The DSCC did not provide crosstabs, but that number would suggest that there is still about one-third of the electorate that does not know either of the candidates particularly well, and particularly Carmona, which leaves wiggle room for the candidates to define themselves and each other.
A big opportunity for both of them to do so is tonight, when they face off in their first debate.
One Democratic strategist called it a pivotal moment for Flake to beat back Carmona’s momentum.
Speaking on background, the strategist said he expected “Flake to be combative and aggressive because even he recognizes that he needs to do something to alter the trajectory and dynamics of the race as it stands. If the race was going well, the [National Republican Senatorial Committee] NRSC wouldn’t be spending in Arizona like they started doing last week.”
Flake preempted the debate with an ad released Wednesday morning featuring veterans accusing Carmona of lying about Flake’s voting record on veteran’s issues, suggesting that this issue will play a role in the debate. Carmona served in the army, and he has accused Flake of voting against veterans’ interests while in Congress.
The Democratic strategist classified veterans issues as one of “Flake’s biggest vulnerabilities.”
Barr said the Flake ad released Wednesday illustrated that “Congressman Flake’s on the defensive. It shows that he’s taking on water.”
Nonetheless, Barr was careful to lower expectations for tonight’s debate, noting, “this is Dr. Carmona’s first debate; Congressman Flake’s been doing this for 12 years.”
The Flake campaign did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Internal polls should be taken with a grain of salt, and Carmona is still the underdog in this race. Only one independent poll this cycle has shown Carmona leading; every other one has put Flake ahead.