Republican Jeff Flake and Democrat Richard Carmona traded sharp accusations during Monday's U.S. Senate race debate, reflecting the rising tensions in the high-stakes race.
Frequently interrupting and speaking over each other, Flake and Carmona each tried to paint the other as unfit to replace Sen. Jon Kyl, who is retiring after 18 years.
Flake accused Carmona of not having the proper temperament to be a U.S. senator, citing past run-ins with colleagues and bosses. He also said Carmona would fall in line with President Obama and Democratic leaders, and criticized him for not taking positions on issues.
"When you are in Congress, you have to make decisions and choices and that's what I hear very little of," Flake said. "Dr. Carmona has a great résumé. I don't think anybody disputes it, but a résumé is not a plan."
Carmona called Flake a chronic politician who delivers politicized answers to policy questions that come from the Republican Party's playbook. He also accused Flake of missing hearings, not understanding border issues and having little to show for his 12 years in Congress.
"Congressman Flake has created a narrative to try to put me in a place where I am not," Carmona said. "This is in-the-gutter, ugly politics."
The one-hour debate, which aired on KUAT Monday night, was the second of three between the two. The third is Oct. 25 in Yuma. Libertarian Marc Victor, who is also on the ballot, was not at Monday's debate.
Polls show the race is close. So far, more than $4.3 million spent has been spent by national political parties and PACs, helping to fuel a blistering pace of TV attack ads.
One of those ads - featuring Carmona's former boss saying he should "never, ever" be a senator - took center stage at Monday's debate.
It features Cristina Beato, former acting assistant Secretary of Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, saying Carmona has issues with anger, ethics and women. She alleges that while he worked under her when he was U.S. surgeon general, Carmona angrily banged on her door in the middle of the night.
Carmona called the accusations false and said Beato was a disgruntled person who has anger problems and other issues. He said he was cleared of any wrongdoing stemming from the incident at her house by a congressional committee.
Carmona has his own TV ad featuring retired Pima County sheriff's SWAT Commander Kathleen Brennan vouching for his character and saying Flake should be ashamed" of the despicable ad.
"This really best exemplifies the kind of politics Congressman Flake is involved in," Carmona said. "Getting in the gutter, throwing mud with baseless accusations."
But Flake said Carmona can't make the questions about his personality go away by discrediting Beato. Flake said Carmona's temperament led to him not being asked to serve a second term as surgeon general under Republican President George Bush.
Carmona said surgeon generals generally only serve one term because the job is so demanding. He acknowledged he created discomfort for Republicans he worked under because he refused to get sucked into politics and focused instead on being the "doctor of the nation."
Then, Carmona leveled a new charge - that Flake was absent from hundreds of congressional committee hearings while traveling.
Flake denied the assertion, saying his travels on behalf of the foreign affairs committee always came when Congress was out of session. Other missed meetings were due to serving on three committees, which forced him to pick between meetings, which is normal in Congress, Flake said.
"The record is clear - it's online, congressman," Carmona said.
"No, you are wrong," Flake said. "It shows how little you know about how Congress operates."
"If that's how Congress operates, I wouldn't want to be part of it," Carmona said. "Because that is a very dysfunctional Congress."
The two also butted heads about health-care reform. Flake insisted Carmona supports "Obamacare" and criticized Carmona for not supporting repeal, which he said is needed.
Carmona accused Flake and Republicans of "politicizing" the issue of health care and miscasting his comments.
He said he has concerns about the sustainability of President Obama's law, but that it has some good parts and should not be abandoned.
He said he was speaking about supporting the "aspiration of health care for all" in videos from town halls earlier this year that Flake uses in ads.
Flake took exception with Carmona's frequent assertion that he politicizes issues.
"Whenever I bring up a difference, I'm politicizing things," Flake said. "But when you bring up differences, then it's based on policy. That just doesn't wash."
"It does wash and here's why: You are a chronic politician," Carmona said.
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Contact reporter Brady McCombs at 573-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @BradyMcCombs