PHOENIX (AP) — Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Richard Carmona got a boost from former President Bill Clinton, just hours after Carmona faced opponent Republican Rep. Jeff Flake in their first debate.
The pair of Democrats addressed a crowd of several thousand at a Wednesday night rally at Arizona State University to kick off early voting, which begins Thursday. Kevin Johnson, a former Phoenix Suns star and current mayor of Sacramento, Calif., also made an appearance on stage to introduce Carmona.
Clinton rehashed points he made at the Democratic National Convention, where he gave a similar speech to give a boost to President Barack Obama and defend his economic policies.
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.
During the debate, Flake tried to link Carmona to Obama's policies. He said Carmona was 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 the one-hour debate produced by KAET-TV in Phoenix.
Carmona said he has been an independent his whole life.
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.
Yet at the debate, he said: "I am not here to defend the Obama administration."
At the Carmona rally later, Flake was rarely mentioned by name. Instead, the Democrats tied him to Republican measures such as a GOP budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the Republican vice presidential nominee.
Clinton also defended the federal health care overhaul, which Flake voted against.
Both Clinton and Carmona drew parallels between Carmona's biography as a veteran and a surgeon, and government programs that they said built a strong middle class, such as the G.I. bill.
Clinton said voters who believe in the "legacy of the G.I. bill that built (Carmona)" should vote for a Democrat to support those types of programs.
"Every life we let go makes the rest of us poorer. And the more we expand opportunity for everybody, the more we build a great middle-class century for the 21st century," Clinton said.
Clinton also tried to appeal to the younger crowd, citing changes to student loans passed by the Obama administration and expressing support for a DREAM Act.