"It's been almost 18 years since there was a Democrat in the Senate from Arizona," says Sean Sullivan at The Washington Post. Few people expected that to change when Sen. Jon Kyl (R) announced his retirement and Rep. Jeff Flake (R), Kyl's handpicked choice, threw his hat in the ring. But as Flake got bogged down in a costly primary race against former pal Wil Cardon, Democrats recruited George W. Bush's surgeon general, Richard Carmona, a decorated military veteran and former deputy sheriff with an independent streak, and Hispanic to boot. Arizona is still a solidly red state, and Flake is still leading in most polls, but it's becoming increasingly clear, says John Guzzon at Modern Times Magazine, that "Carmona is palpably close to winning."


Rep. Jeff Flake (R)
Six-term U.S. congressman
Age: 49

Richard Carmona
Former U.S. surgeon general
Age: 62

Flake and the GOP have seized on a phone call President Obama made to Carmona (then a registered independent) last year to urge him to enter the race as a Democrat, telling voters that the call proves Carmona is "Obama's man in Arizona," and would be a "rubber stamp" if Obama wins re-election. Carmona says that Flake's signature, rigid opposition to Congressional earmarks has hurt Arizona, stifling investment and job creation, and accuses him of flip-flopping to oppose immigration reform and voting against veterans' care. ObamaCare is also an issue in the race, with Flake vowing to repeal it and Carmona agreeing with the concept but urging fixes to the law.

Flake: 44.3 percent
Carmona: 42 percent
(See the full data here.)

Each party is now touting internal polls showing their candidate ahead, but most political scorekeepers — Larry Sabato, Stu Rothenburg, and Nate Silver — have the race tilting or leaning Republican. Charlie Cook's shop just changed the race to "toss-up," however, and Democrats think it's in play enough to sink more than $1 million into Carmona's bid — and send Bill Clinton to campaign on his behalf. In order to win, Carmona has to get Latinos to turn out in force and win over independents, who make up about a third of the electorate. That said, the strong GOP tilt to the state may be too much for the Democrats to overcome this year, even with a strong candidate like Carmona. (How strong? Republicans tried to recruit him in 2005.)

CASH ON HAND (as of Aug. 8):
Flake: $1.7 million on hand; $5.4 million total
Carmona: $1.8 million on hand; $2.9 million total


Jeff Flake: "Arizona's Battle-Tested Conservative"


Richard Carmona: "Both"


More races at a glance:
Massachusetts Senate: Scott Brown vs. Elizabeth Warren
Nebraska Senate: Deb Fischer vs. Bob Kerrey
North Dakota Senate: Rick Berg vs. Heidi Heitkamp
Connecticut Senate: Linda McMahon vs. Chris Murphy
Montana Senate: Jon Tester vs. Denny Rehberg
Virginia Senate: George Allen vs. Tim Kaine

Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.