PHOENIX (AP) — Republican Jeff Flake tried to link Democrat Richard Carmona to President Barack Obama's policies as the two U.S. Senate candidates debated Wednesday for the first time.
Carmona, meanwhile, charged that Flake's fierce opposition to special funding requests known as earmarks has hurt economic development in Arizona. He said business leaders and a mayor in metro Phoenix have complained that Flake's ideological opposition to earmarks for roads, public-works and water projects has hurt efforts to attract new businesses to the state.
Flake, a six-term congressman, and Carmona, who served as surgeon general under former President George W. Bush, are running for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Jon Kyl. Libertarian Marc Victor, a criminal defense lawyer who served in the U.S. Marines, is also running.
Flake said Carmona is an "echo" of the Obama administration in that he believes that job creation is the job of the government rather than private enterprise.
"He has adopted the Democratic playbook," Flake said during Wednesday's one-hour debate produced by KAET-TV in Phoenix.
Carmona responded, saying he has been an independent his whole life.
"I am not here to defend the Obama administration," he said.
Flake has portrayed Carmona as a hand-picked rubber stamp for Obama. Democrats recruited Carmona, who until late last year was a registered independent, to run for Kyl's seat after it became clear that then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords wouldn't campaign because of head injuries she suffered during the January 2011 shooting rampage in Tucson. One of the recruiting pitches came from the president.
Victor focused on government spending and said both Democrats and Republicans are to blame for increasing the size of government. "They have caused the problem," Victor said.
Flake touted his opposition to earmarks as a move away from patronage and a move toward basing funding for projects on merit. "Arizona is far better without earmarks," Flake said.