WASHINGTON -- An old feud and the race for women voters took center stage in a tight Arizona Senate race Thursday, with Republican Rep. Jeff Flake citing the grudge in a new ad alleging that Democrat Richard Carmona lacks the temperament for the job. Senate Democrats fired back with their own spot accusing Flake of voting against bulletproof vests for local police.
The Republican spot, part of a statewide broadcast buy that includes Hispanic media, features Dr. Cristina Beato, the former acting assistant secretary at HHS, describing how Carmona pounded on her door in the middle of the night to talk about trips he wanted to take as U.S. surgeon general that she declined to approve. Looking into the camera, she says she feared for her kids and for herself.
"Carmona is not who he seems. He has issues with anger, with ethics and with women," Beato said. "I have testified to this under oath to Congress. Richard Carmona should never, ever be in the U.S. Senate."
Senate Democrats were ready with their own attack ad, which accuses Flake of voting against federal money for bulletproof vests and child abuse prevention.
"Jeff Flake: deeply out of touch," says the narrator.
Four weeks from Election Day, the ad eruption reflects the race's closeness and the high stakes in the broader battle for control of the Senate. Nationally, Republicans need to gain four seats to win control of the 100-seat chamber. Tight races in places like Montana, North Dakota and traditionally liberal Maine, Connecticut and Massachusetts are getting expensive and more personal. Arizona has joined the list.
Carmona, a surgeon general under President George W. Bush, left his post in 2006 when his term was up. He returned to Washington in the following months and testified to a congressional committee that mid-level GOP appointees he refused to name had orchestrated his appearances for political gain. He also said they muzzled him on sensitive political issues like stem cell research and sex education.
At that time, he declined to single out Beato. But on Thursday, his campaign spokesman wasted no words.
"Dr. Beato is a partisan who was caught trying to politicize science at HHS and couldn't be confirmed to a post because she lied on her resume," said campaign spokesman Andy Barr. "It's no secret that Dr. Carmona pushed back on her attempts to spin science for political gain, but this accusation is a work of fiction. Congressman Flake's decision to run this false ad is deplorable and shows how desperate he is."
As investigators for a Democratic-controlled House committee looked into his allegations back then, Beato returned the criticism. She accused Carmona of lying and said he was "unethical" for billing the government for travel back to Arizona and to San Diego, where he had a second home. She also told investigators about Carmona knocking on her door at night on two occasions.
When the Associated Press reviewed her allegation last spring, colleagues described a poisonous relationship between the two.
Robert Williams, who served as Carmona's chief of staff, said the surgeon general did not make any travel without approval from Beato or a higher-ranking authority. He said the tensions between Beato and Carmona arose because his position as surgeon general was akin to being a "rock star" in health circles.
"I think there was some professional jealousy there on her part," Williams said.
Beato told The Associated Press that she stood by her statements to congressional investigators. She was nominated by Bush in the summer of 2003 to serve as assistant secretary for health. The Senate declined to take up her nomination after Democrats questioned details in her resume.
In a press release accompanying the ad, Flake's campaign says Beato's experience was not unique.
"Far from being an isolated incident, Dr. Beato's experience appears to be a pattern," said Flake campaign spokesman Andrew Wilder.