Poll finds Ariz. Senate seat in reach for Dems

Holding on to retiring Sen. Jon Kyl's (R) seat will be no cakewalk for Arizona Republicans, and could offer Democrats one of their strongest chances to take control of a Republican seat and stave off a GOP coup in the Senate, according to a new poll.

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), the GOP front-runner in the race to replace Kyl, holds only a 4-point lead over U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, who launched his campaign less than three weeks ago. Matched up with Don Bivens in the survey by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, the former state party chairman and first Democratic candidate to enter the race, Flake leads by 10 points.

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Democrats have been eagerly eyeing Arizona and its open Senate seat as a feasible pickup opportunity in 2012, when Republican gains of only four seats would cede them control of the Senate, if President Obama wins reelection. But the Democratic primary got off to a slow start, in part due to deference to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was considering a Senate run before being injured in a January shooting rampage.

Flake, a staunch conservative who has amassed almost $2.3 million for his Senate run, appeared in a position to handily win the seat — until Democrats succeeded in recruiting Carmona, a Hispanic candidate with an independent background that could appeal to moderate voters in the state's Republican-leaning electorate.

Flake's major advantage comes in name recognition, where only four in 10 Arizona voters said they had no opinion of him. Eight in 10 had no opinion of Bivens, and seven in 10 felt that way about Carmona.

Businessman Wil Cardon, who is challenging Flake in the primary, was the biggest unknown in the race, but still beats both Carmona and Bivens in a general-election matchup.

“Democrats appear to start out with a real chance in this race,” said Dean Debnam, the polling firm's president.

But the poll also revealed more Democratic voters in Arizona say they support Flake than Republicans who support Bivens or Carmona. Democrats will have to hold on tight to their voters in the general election if they are to pick up the seat next November.

The poll of 500 Arizona voters was conducted Nov. 17-20 using automated telephone interviews and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.