Democrat Bivens drops out of Arizona Senate primary, clearing way for Carmona

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Eyeing the conservative electorate in Arizona, a state that hasn’t had a Democratic senator since the mid-1990s, Democrats made it clear early on that their pick for the nomination was Carmona. A Hispanic and former independent who worked under President George W. Bush, Carmona offered Democrats potential support from a wide swath of voters — including Republicans, whose votes Democrats will need if they are to defeat Rep. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), the GOP front-runner for Kyl’s seat.

An Obama super-delegate and former Planned Parenthood director, Bivens ran to the left of Carmona, hoping that Democratic primary voters would reward party loyalty over Carmona’s centrist appeal.

“The choice is going to be a lifelong Democrat versus a Bush-Cheney supporter,” Bivens told The Hill in February.

But with party support coalescing behind Carmona, fundraising grew more difficult for Bivens, and polls showed Carmona could be more competitive than Bivens in the general election. Democrats in Washington were eager to see the field cleared so that Carmona could focus on a general-election strategy of boosting his crossover appeal.

“While I am confident we would win this primary, the cost and impact on the party I’ve spent my life fighting for could diminish our chance to achieve the ultimate goal: winning in November,” Bivens said Wednesday.

Senate Democrats welcomed the news of Biven’s withdrawal from the race, praising his leadership in the party and his contributions to Democratic campaign efforts in Arizona.

“I am heartened that Don has decided to focus his time and energy on reelecting the president and helping Democrats succeed in Arizona up and down the ballot,” said Reid.

Carmona called Bivens a cornerstone of the state party and an agent of change who will be “an integral player in any winning strategy.” Bivens did not expressly endorse Carmona when he dropped out of the race.

“Don knew how great of an opportunity we have to win this seat and knew that it would take a strong and united effort to do so,” said Carmona. “He and his team ran a strong race that showed a great deal of respect for the nominating process which in turn has improved our party's chance of success in November."

Working to undercut Carmona’s claims to represent an independent, solutions-oriented ideology, Republicans said they were unsurprised that Democrats had cleared the field for their hand-picked candidate.

“Today’s news only serves as a reminder to Arizonans that a vote for Carmona this November is a vote for President Obama’s liberal, big government agenda of higher taxes, reckless Washington spending and job-killing healthcare takeovers,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh.

Republicans still have a contested primary on their side, but Flake has an almost insurmountable lead over Wil Cardon, a businessman and former Flake supporter.

Flake took to Twitter on Tuesday to praise the man he would have likely preferred to face in a general election.

“Don is a good man,” Flake wrote after news broke that Bivens was exiting the race. “I'm sure he will continue to serve his state and community well.”

- This story was posted at 10:44 a.m. and has been updated.