Arizona contest expands Senate battleground

WASHINGTON -- A new front was added to the Senate battleground this week as money poured into Arizona and the Cook Political Report moved the race in the Grand Canyon state to “toss up.”

The contest between Democrat Richard Carmona and Republican Jeff Flake has become an “unlikely toss up,” acknowledged Cook analyst Jennifer Duffy, but one nevertheless that has shifted to that column Friday as “the close contest that Democrats predicted has emerged.”

As Republicans seek to capture control from Democrats, the race becomes one to watch as both parties seek to expand the playing field as Republicans have struggled to maintain the advantages they had at the start of this election cycle.

Democrats have been quietly suggesting they have an opening in the Republican stronghold as Carmona, the former U.S. Surgeon General nominated by President George W. Bush, will appeal to voters with middle-of-the-aisle views and he does outreach to the Latino electorate.

Republicans have long downplayed the potential political threat posed by Carmona, portraying him as hand-picked by President Obama in a state that still holds a Republican plurality among the electorate.

Flake, the congressman from Mesa, appeals to conservatives in the state from his perch in the fiscally conservative wing of the House Republicans. He was an anti-earmark crusader who predates the tea party’s zeal for cutting federal spending and the specially funded projects earmarked by lawmakers. Flake’s candidacy is backed by the state’s retiring Republican Sen. Jon Kyl and its favorite son, Republican Sen. John McCain.

Polls show the race has narrowed to essentially a statistical dead heat.

This week, the conservative Club for Growth pumped $500,000 for a television ad buy in the state, only to be matched by a counter-offensive from the Democratic campaign arm in the Senate – which now promises another buy bringing its total to $1 million.

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