The first televised Arizona Senate debate shed light on an overlooked but potentially significant factor in this closely-fought race: A third candidate.
Libertarian Marc Victor elbowed his way into the conversation Wednesday night, repeatedly needling Republican Rep. Jeff Flake over his hallmark accomplishment during his dozen years in Congress: killing the practice of earmarks.
“Talking about earmarks is exactly the kind of craziness we don’t need anymore,” Victor said at the debate in Phoenix, noting that the national debt is $16 trillion and earmarks account for one half of 1 percent of the federal budget.
“Talking about that is like talking about a drop of water in the ocean.”
Victor won’t be elected as retiring GOP Sen. Jon Kyl’s successor next month, but that doesn’t mean he’s irrelevant.
The attorney and former Marine — who said candidates should be proposing federal departments to shutter instead of “tinkering” with earmarks — could siphon votes from Flake. And that could boost Democrat Richard Carmona in a close election, which polls indicate this very much is.
An internal Democratic poll released Wednesday showed Carmona, the former U.S. surgeon general, leading Flake by 4 percentage points. But it also showed Victor capturing 3 percent of the vote. A recent poll commissioned by Phoenix-based GOP consulting firm HighGround found Victor winning 4 percent.
Flake’s campaign released its own poll showing the six-term congressman ahead by 6 points; Victor was not included in that survey, according to a memo. Republicans said libertarian candidates in Arizona typically draw votes from disaffected voters in both the Democratic and Republican parties.
The former head of Arizona’s Goldwater Institute, Flake has spent his time in Congress campaigning against pork-barrel spending, the practice of lawmakers funneling federal dollars to pet projects in their home states. The last transportation bill had 6,300 earmarks, he said, including Alaska’s infamous “Bridge to Nowhere.”
This Congress, Flake claimed victory when both the House and Senate passed a moratorium on earmarks as they became symbols of wasteful spending in Washington.
“It’s good riddance to get rid of them,” Flake said. “Now, municipalities and others can compete for grants on a merit basis that is much better than political patronage.”