Arizona Senate race gets competitive as new poll shows Carmona leading Republican rival by slim margin

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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The Arizona Senate race just got interesting.

A Public Policy Polling poll released Wednesday shows Democrat Richard Carmona demonstrating a surprising resiliency in a race Democrats seemed poised to lose just a month ago. The poll found Carmona leading Republican Rep. Jeff Flake by a slim two-point margin, meaning the race is statistically tied.

And on Monday, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced its first independent expenditure in the state, suggesting Democrats are beginning to see the race as competitive.

Several September polls, including PPP’s own poll from earlier in the month, had shown Flake leading the race. But Carmona is now currently polling far ahead of President Barack Obama, who trails Mitt Romney by nine points among Arizona voters. He also has a 52-to-37 percentage point lead among independents and a commanding tally of crossover voters, with 14 percent of Republicans in his column, versus just the seven percent of Democrats who said they would vote for Flake.

Still, Carmona remains an unknown quantity in Arizona: 38 percent of voters said they were “not sure” when asked whether they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the Democratic candidate, leaving a fair amount of wiggle room for opponents to define Carmona.

The Club for Growth has already taken advantage of that opportunity by launching a $500,000 ad buy in the state and releasing an advertisement called “Know,” which highlights Carmona’s support for President Obama.

“We are where we thought we’d be” at this point in the race, said Andy Barr, a spokesman for Carmona.

Carmona is a “very unique candidate with broad appeal, [so] a lot of conventional rules about the state don’t apply,” Barr added.

PPP polled 595 likely Arizona voters using robocalls. Of those, 46 percent were Republicans, 29 percent Democrats, and 25 percent listed themselves as independent or some other affiliation.

PPP is a left-leaning polling firm, but compared to some 2010 and 2008 exit polls, their new poll includes a relatively high percentage of Republicans. In CBS News exit polls from the 2010 Arizona Senate race, 28 percent of respondents identified as Democrat, 36 percent as Republican, and 36 percent as independent or another affiliation. In 2008, a particularly good year for Democrats, there was no Senate race in Arizona, but 32 percent of those who went to the polls were Democrats, 39 percent were Republicans, and 30 percent were independent, according to a CNN poll.

The PPP poll has a margin of error of four percentage points.

A spokesman for Flake did not return a request for comment.

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Alexis Levinson