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Carmona and Flake Debate as Race Tightens

The candidates for U-S Senate went at each other Wednesday night in their bid for election.

Much of the debate on KAET-TV, the Phoenix PBS affiliate featured Republican Jeff Flake and Democrat Richard Carmona trading charges of who is flip-flopping on their positions. The attacks come as some polls show the race is close despite the Republican voter registration edge. Carmona has sought to portray himself as not just another Democrat, citing his service as surgeon general in the Bush administration and the fact he was an independent until recently. Flake sought to undermine that after Carmona said he supports earmarks -- special funding requests federal lawmakers put into spending bills -- saying they help Arizona get needed money for roads and other infrastructure to create jobs.

"He's only been a Democrat a year now," Flake said. "But he has adopted the Democrat playbook through and through that source of jobs in this country is the federal government and not businesses and entrepreneurs. This notion that we have to have the federal government to provide incentives for business, what we really need surety on taxes and then to provide a moratorium on these burdensome regulations that are strangling business in the state."

Carmona in turn chided Flake for refusing to seek earmarks, even when sought by state and local officials.

"The fact of the matter is that all earmarks are not pork," Carmona said. "There are necessities that the federal government can provide. And the congressman has been in Congress for 12 years. He has had this ideological streak."

The whole debate bemused Libertarian Marc Victor.

"We have a $16 trillion debt," Victor said. "Earmarks accounted for one half of one percent of the federal budget. Of course, fine, we're better off without earmarks. But talking about that is like talking about a drop of water in the ocean."

One of the places Flake accused Carmona of changing his position is over the federal Affordable Care Act. Carmona has said he supports what's been labeled Obamacare. But Carmona said Wednesday he would not have voted for the measure had he been in Congress at the time because it's not sustainable.

"I've always said as surgeon general and before, the fact is, as a nation, we could come together, not politicize health care but make sure all people have access to health care," Carmona said. "But when we look at adding 32 million people into the system, the way the business plan is set up to take money from the doctors, money from the hospitals, they're already being threatened. They're not signing up to take more Medicare patients."

Flake found himself defending his record on immigration. At one time Flake was out far ahead of his party, promoting reform that included allowing the 11 million illegal immigrants already here to remain. Flake said his position has not changed. What has changed is the politics of the situation.

"For 10 years I worked on this issue and hit my head against a brick wall like everyone else," Flake said. "Myself, Sen. Kyl, Sen. McCain realize until we have better border security, nobody will trust the federal government to move ahead on the other items."

And Flake said there is an example of what a secure border looks like.

"The Yuma sector we have operational security there, er, operational control, which is loosely defined as if an illegal alien crosses the border we have a reasonable expectation of catching them," Flake said.

He said that's what's needed in the Tucson sector. But Carmona said that's just an excuse for delay.

"The congressman, trying to take what's happening in Yuma and transfer it to Tucson sector doesn't necessarily transfer very easily," Carmona noted. "The fact of the matter is, we need comprehensive immigration reform. We need it now."

Two other debates are schedule, one next week in Tucson and the other 10 days after that in Yuma.