TUCSON - Who would have thunk it? The first-ever U.S. senator of Puerto Rican descent, elected not from New York, Massachusetts, or Illinois, but from Arizona, where Puerto Ricans are as rare as thornless trees?
Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona is hoping to make history this November. The latest bipartisan Purple Strategies poll released last week shows that Carmona has leaped to within three percentage points (48 percent to 45), of far-right Republican Jeff Flake in the race to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Jon Kyl. This is within the poll's margin of error, indicating that the Arizona Senate race is in a dead heat. Last week's polls also showed President Obama equally close to Mitt Romney in Arizona, demonstrating that the Obama campaign was correct when they decided that Arizona is in play this election year.
Although running as a Democrat, Carmona is very well known and popular in Southern Arizona across party lines. He is presenting himself as an independent, civic-minded, non-politician. His campaign calls for expanding health care coverage, full support for women's reproductive rights, and for the DREAM Act.
Carmona's personal history is of a poor kid growing up in a dysfunctional and sometimes homeless family in Harlem; a high school dropout who ended up in Vietnam but - thanks to the GI Bill - was able to graduate from medical school. Quite a contrast with the Mitt Romney story.
Arizona's labor movement has moved into high gear to support Carmona. The AFL-CIO has launched its labor-to-labor campaign to talk to every union household in the state.
Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva's campaign, experts at grassroots mobilization within Grijalva's heavily Democratic district, are also hoping to turn out a massive vote for Carmona.
Arizona Democrats are also hoping to pick up two new congressional seats this year. In CD-1 Ann Kirkpatrick has a good chance to regain the seat she lost in 2010, and in Arizona's new 9th District the latest polls show liberal Democrat Kyrsten Sinema leading Republican Vernon Parker. The district has more registered Republicans than Democrats, but both are outnumbered by independents, and it's a district that Obama carried in 2008 when Arizona went heavily for John McCain.
Both national parties intend to spend obscene amounts of money in these two districts as well as on the Carmona/Flake Senate race.
Photo: Carmona participates in a 4th of July parade. Official Facebook page