The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee made public on Wednesday afternoon a poll that gives Democrat Richard Carmona a 4-point lead on Rep. Jeff Flake (R), with 47 percent support to Flake's 43 percent support.
The truth of the race likely lies somewhere between the two polls, though there's no denying it's a close one. Arizona's a red state and looks likely to break for Mitt Romney, and Flake had led in every poll of the race up until October. But a recent poll released by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling gave Carmona a 2-point lead on Flake — statistically insignificant, but an indication that at this point, it's anyone's race.
That could explain the timing of the two polls: they were released within hours of each other, and within hours of the candidates' first debate, in part to set the atmosphere for that first face-to-face engagement. The debate could be pivotal in a margin-of-error race, where no candidate has yet posted a clear lead.
The DSCC poll, conducted by Harstad Strategic Research, gives Carmona a big lead among independents, 51 to 38 percent over Flake. That poll also puts Flake's favorability underwater, with 38 percent viewing him unfavorably to 36 percent viewing him favorably. Democrats have been attacking Flake on veterans' and womens' issues in recent weeks, and just yesterday the Carmona campaign launched DoYouKnowJeff.com, a "quiz" that claims to introduce voters to his "extreme positions."
Carmona holds a favorability advantage over Flake at this point, with 39 percent of respondents viewing him favorably to 24 percent viewing him unfavorably, but that means a large swath of Arizona voters are still unfamiliar with the candidate — and Flake and Republicans are doing all they can to define him before November.
Republicans recently launched a new attack on Carmona's record as CEO of the Pima County healthcare system, and on Wednesday the National Republican Senatorial Committee announced a new website, CarmonaFiles.com, that it says aims to "inform Arizonans on the issues Carmona won't talk about on the campaign trail."
The site features a video outlining congressional testimony from Carmona's confirmation hearings for U.S. surgeon general from Carmona's female colleagues, who took issue with the candidate's interactions with them.
The focus on Carmona's record marks a shift in Republican strategy from an attempt to tie Carmona to President Obama and his policies, perhaps an indication that the effort isn't sticking.
Meanwhile, the internal Flake poll, conducted by The Tarrance Group, shows the candidates statistically tied among independents, with Carmona at 44 percent and Flake at 43 percent.
Flake has a big advantage over Carmona, 54 to 39 percent, over who is better equipped to represent Arizonans on the issues of jobs and the economy.
The DSCC poll was conducted among 602 likely voters between Oct. 7 and Oct. 9 and has a 4 percent margin of error.
The Tarrance Group survey of 453 likely voters was conducted between Oct. 7 and Oct. 9 and has 4.7 percent margin of error.