Arizona: Carmona Declines to Run, Keeps Future Options Open

by Nathan L. Gonzales March 21, 2013 · 3:45 PM EDT

Timing is everything in politics, and for Richard Carmona, 2014 isn’t the right time.

The Arizona Democrat narrowly lost a bid for the U.S. Senate in a very competitive race last fall and was being encouraged by Democrats in Washington, D.C. and the Grand Canyon State to run for governor in 2014. But Carmona announced that he would not be a candidate next year, saying that it was too much, too soon to step back onto the campaign trail.

But even though Carmona gained national attention by being one of the top Hispanic candidates running from either party last cycle and his heritage fueled some of the excitement about a future candidacy, that is not how he defines himself.

“It’s good that I happen to be Latino, but I’m an American candidate,” Carmona told NBCLatino in an interview on Tuesday. To the 63-year-old Vietnam veteran, SWAT team leader and surgeon, he “did everything just like everyone else,” even though his personal story is extraordinary. And even though he doesn’t emphasize his Puerto Rican roots, he enjoyed significant support from the Hispanic community in the Senate race, including 72 percent of the Latino vote.

Carmona lost the Senate race last November to Republican Jeff Flake by three points, 49 percent to 46 percent, but he outperformed President Barack Obama by a couple of points. Carmona’s recent decision leaves the gubernatorial race without a Hispanic candidate in a state where Latinos made up 18 percent of the electorate in 2012. In fact, Latinos (and Democrats) are currently shut out of all eight statewide offices in Arizona.

But it’s much easier for strategists and activists to encourage people to run because it is the candidates who pay the biggest price.

“Basically, you put your life on hold [and] you don’t see your family for a year,” Carmona explained. The first-time candidate described running for office as a “full-time job” that required constant travel around the state and the country, particularly for fundraisers. Eight years ago, Republicans recruited Carmona to run for office when he was U.S. Surgeon General, appointed by President George W. Bush.

Carmona first revealed his decision in a Sunday interview with the NBC affiliate in Phoenix and followed up with a post on his Facebook page.

“Everyone stuck with me for over a year,” Carmona said in a follow up interview with NBCLatino, praising his employers for their support and the ability to return to his positions. He is vice chairman of Canyon Ranch resorts in Tucson, president of the Canyon Ranch Institute, a health and wellness non-profit organization, serves on several boards and is a distinguished professor at the University of Arizona.

“They did everything they could to support me. It would be disingenuous for me to come back to them again and say, ‘I need to be away two more years,’” Carmona said.

Even though the Democrat had a “tremendous experience” in 2012, he decried the flood of “outside money” and overall negativism in his race. Carmona was particularly frustrated when a two-minute phone call from President Obama encouraging him to consider the race was used by Republicans to claim the two men were ideological soulmates. “That’s the reality of running for office,” said Carmona, who explained before that conversation, he had met Obama once, eight years ago.

But even with full knowledge that another negative campaign is likely and personal and professional sacrifice would be necessary, Carmona didn’t rule out the possibility of running for office in the future. “In a democracy, all of us have to give up some time,” he said. “I’m not looking for a job. I’m over-employed. But it’s incumbent on us to serve when needed.”