He was back in Tucson when Democrats recruited him to run for Kyl's seat after it became clear that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords would not run because of the head injuries she suffered during a shooting rampage. One of the recruiting pitches came from the president himself. The GOP is now referring to Carmona as "Obama's man in Arizona."
Carmona, 62, has tried to keep a distance from Obama.
"I had already pretty much decided I was going to do this by the time I had a conversation," Carmona said in an interview with The Associated Press. "The president didn't recruit me so much as say, 'I hope you're seriously considering this,' and that was it. A call of a couple of minutes."
While Carmona emphasizes his resume, he also points to some issues where he and Flake have clear differences. Immigration is one of them. Carmona said he admires Bush and the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy for trying to craft legislation that would increase security at the borders, but also give illegal immigrants already in the U.S. a pathway to citizenship.
"It's an earned citizenship we're talking about," said Carmona, whose parents are from Puerto Rico.
Flake in the past also has supported comprehensive immigration reform, but during the GOP primary said he no longer could. He said lawlessness along the border called for an exclusive focus on border security. Once achieved, "then we can move onto these areas of reform we obviously have to have," he said in a recent interview.
Flake made his mark in Congress as a leader in the effort to do away with lawmakers' ability to designate federal dollars for local pet projects such as roads and bridges, or to help private companies. He supported a GOP budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan that would change how future Medicare beneficiaries now under age 55 would get health care coverage. Basically, Ryan's plan would provide future seniors with subsidies to help buy a private health plan or buy coverage through a government-run program modeled after the current system.
Carmona said he opposes the Ryan premium-support plan because it transfers financial risks from the government to seniors. Seniors with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension will have difficulty getting coverage, he said.
Instead, Carmona proposes reducing health care costs for the elderly by focusing more effort on preventing diseases such as diabetes and by wringing out more waste and fraud. While that prescription is unlikely to upset most voters, Flake said, it also is unlikely to do much to make Medicare solvent.
"The status quo ends Medicare because over time we cannot afford the program the way it is now structured," Flake said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.