How to Lose a Winnable U.S. Senate Race

Arizona Senate Candidate Richard Carmona had everything going for him. Until he made one very ill-advised joke.

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Richard Carmona, the Democratic candidate for the Arizona senate seat being vacated by Jon Kyl, is a former U.S. surgeon general and decorated military veteran. A Hispanic American, he overcame childhood homelessness and has deep roots in the Tucson area, where he served as a deputy sheriff for more than two decades. Barack Obama himself called Carmona to urge him to run, knowing the Spanish-speaking doctor is the kind of blue-chip candidate capable of wresting away a Senate seat in a red state. And Carmona seems poised to do just that. The past two polls in Arizona have shown Carmona edging ahead of U.S. Representative Jeff Flake, the Republican nominee, and Democratic forces have begun pouring cash into the state in hopes of snatching an upset victory.

But with one stupid quip, Carmona may have badly damaged his chances. During a testy exchange in a Thursday night debate, moderator Brahm Resnik quipped, “Now I know how Candy Crowley felt,” he said. To which Carmona replied: “You’re prettier than her,” and patted the moderator’s hand.

“Not sure how to take that,” Resnik said. Nor should women in Arizona. Here’s the video of the exchange:

Carmona apologized for the joke, but the damage will linger. Carmona is especially vulnerable on the question of his attitude toward women. Last week, Flake released an ad featuring Cristino Beato, Carmona’s former boss at the Department of Health and Human Services, speaking direct-to-camera as she recounts an incident in which Carmona allegedly knocked on her door in the middle of the night, causing her to fear for her safety. (Politico has more on the incident, which Carmona denies.)  “Carmona is not who he seems,” Beato says in the ad. “He has issues with anger, with ethics, and with women.”

Carmona’s inane comment is sure to feed that narrative, and rightly so.