Carmona, Flake square off in first Senate debate

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- Democratic Senate candidate Richard Carmona said Wednesday that he would have voted to stop President Obama from overhauling the nation's healthcare system in 2010.

Carmona made the statement during the first televised debate of the campaign as he continued to put distance between himself and Obama, the man who personally recruited him into the race.

"The way it is, I would have, if the president and Congress was not willing to change it, I would not have voted for it the way it was," Carmona said during the hour-long debate.

After saying that, his Republican opponent, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz), immediately attacked Carmona for reversing his position.

"We really don't know how Dr. Carmona feels because when we started this campaign he said he supported it. It's on tape," Flake said.

In a video published on this year, Carmona is asked his view of the Affordable Healthcare Act and he clearly says, "Yes I support it."

In that same video, Carmona raises concerns with the plan and tells a crowd of Democrats that he doesn't think it's sustainable.

Since the Affordable Healthcare Act was passed more than two years ago, Republicans have vowed to repeal it. Since the beginning of the campaign, Carmona's stance on repeal and so-called ObamaCare has been hard to nail down.

At the start of the race, Carmona was reluctant to say how he'd vote on repeal. But now, even as he says he would have voted against the original passage of ObamaCare, Carmona says he'd vote against repealing it, as well.

He said he takes that view because he doesn’t want to take health coverage away from the millions who are now insured under the plan.

Throughout the campaign, Flake has tried linking Carmona to Obama, whom most polls show is an unpopular figure in the Grand Canyon State.

On the other hand, Carmona has tried portraying Flake as a do-nothing politician who has let down veterans and others throughout the state.

Both lines of attack were clearly on display during the debate, which was broadcast on Channel 8 (KAET-TV). The debate also featured Libertarian candidate Marc Victor.

Several times throughout the night, Carmona attacked Flake for voting against bills aimed at helping military veterans.

Flake responded by saying he's voted for more than 80 pieces of legislation supporting veterans. Military issues have taken center stage in this high-profile political battle as both sides have been running ads featuring ex-soldiers.

The debate comes as polls show the race is tightening and big money from across the country has come pouring in on both sides.

The race has become increasingly important for both Republicans and Democrats throughout the nation.

A Carmona win would likely help Democrats keep control of the Senate, as a Republican loss would likely kill any shot of taking the upper chamber.

Another hallmark of the campaign has been Carmona's inspiring story of rising from poverty to becoming the U.S. Surgeon General under Republican President George W. Bush.

But in his opening remarks, Flake took a shot, saying, "My opponent has a great résumé, but a great résumé is not a plan. He's been running for more than a year now and we still don't know where he stands on the major issues of the day."