Dem Senate hopeful: 'I have no connections to President Obama'

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- Democratic Senate hopeful Richard Carmona distanced himself Monday from President Barack Obama, saying he had “no connection” with the man who urged him to run for office.

His comments come months after it was first reported the president personally called the former U.S. surgeon general and asked him to get into the race.

“Let me set the record straight, OK,” Carmona told 3TV. “I have no connections to President Obama.” 

Carmona described his private conversation with the commander-in-chief as one of many he had with Democrats and Republicans while deciding whether or not to run. Obama did call and encourage him, Carmona said, but, “he didn’t twist my arm.” 

Before the two spoke over the phone, Carmona said he’d meet Obama one time on the set of a television talk show several years ago. At the time Obama was still a U.S. senator, Carmona was working for the Republican George W. Bush administration.

“That’s the only relationship we had,” Carmona said.

This marks the second time in as many weeks a high-profile Arizona Democrat has publicly shied away from a president who has become increasingly unpopular in this Republican-leaning state.

During a debate two weeks ago, Ron Barber, who is trying to replace retired Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, declined to say if he would vote for the Democratic president. Barber later issued a written statement clarifying that he would vote for Obama.

Put together it appears Democrats are becoming uncomfortable with Obama in an election year. Both the Carmona and Barber races are very important for the president as well as the Democratic Party.

Democrats need Barber to keep Giffords' old seat in Democratic hands. That is looking like a tough task as Republican Jesse Kelly is running a strong race and voter registration in Arizona's 8th Congressional District heavily favors the GOP.

Obama and Democrats would also greatly benefit from a Carmona victory. Since Obama took office in 2009, Republicans have taken control of the U.S House and made big gains in the Democratically controlled Senate.

The GOP is hopeful it can win a majority in the Senate this year, but a Carmona victory would likely derail the party’s chances of taking over the upper chamber.

Recent polling shows the president is unpopular here in the Grand Canyon State. The Democratic-friendly firm Public Policy Polling released a survey last month showing a solid majority of Arizona voters are unhappy with the president.

The poll showed 56 percent of Arizona voters disapprove of Obama’s job performance while 41 percent like what he's doing. Those numbers are vastly different from a poll taken shortly after Obama moved into the White House more than three years ago.

In April 2009, a survey by Arizona State University showed Arizonans were strongly behind the president. Fifty-three percent of voters said they approved of Obama’s job while 36 percent said they didn’t.