By Alexander Lazar
Richard Carmona is the Democrat running in Arizona's Senate race against Republican Rep. Jeff Flake, but don't try to link Carmona directly to President Obama.
"We are running our own race," said Carmona's spokesman Andy Barr. "We're not really concerned about what President Obama is doing right now."
Before deciding to run for Arizona's open Senate seat as a Democrat, Carmona was a registered independent and previously served as George W. Bush's Surgeon General. And in a Republican-leaning state like Arizona, it's not surprising that someone like Carmona would avoid connecting himself directly to the Democratic president. In fact, there are many areas in which Carmona openly disagrees with the President. One example is the Affordable Care Act, which according Barr, Carmona feels "doesn't address the problem of rising costs, nor does it focus on preventive medicine such as smoking less or eating healthier."
Carmona, however, is not the only Senate candidate who is running counter to the presidential candidate at the top of their ticket. In a highly-polarized election season, candidates running for the Senate who are of a different political party than the majority of their constituency face a steep uphill battle in convincing the voters that they are different from the two men running for President.
"One way of showing that you are not a lock-step partisan is to distance yourself from the top of the ticket, who is certainly going to lose in the state," said Gary Jacobson, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego. Candidates battling the tough demographics of the state they're running in more often than not have to make a pitch to the center in order to attract independent and moderate voters. "Otherwise, they have no chance to win," notes Jacobson.
Elizabeth Shappell, spokeswoman for Rep. Joe Donnelly, the Democrat running for Senate in Republican-leaning Indiana, said that "Joe breaks with his party more than any other Democrat in the House." She cites his support of a balanced budget amendment, the extension of the Bush tax cuts, and his opposition to President Obama's "cap and trade" bill as evidence of that. Donnelly also points to a conservative voting record in Congress that includes voting against the DREAM Act, voting to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress, and voting with House Speaker John Boehner nearly 60% of the time - all of which is proudly displayed on his campaign website.
During this election cycle, you're also likely to find plenty of Republicans who are distancing themselves from Mitt Romney's positions and past statements. After Romney's "47 percent" comments came to light, the Republican running for Senate in Connecticut, Linda McMahon, responded: "I disagree with Governor Romney's insinuation that 47% of Americans believe they are victims who must depend on the government for their care. I know that the vast majority of those who rely on government are not in that situation because they want to be...I am sympathetic to the struggles that millions of Americans are going through because I've been there."
Even Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., who has a finer line to walk because Mitt Romney was the governor of his state for four years, came out and said of Romney's comments: "That's not the way I view the world...As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, I know that being on public assistance is not a spot that anyone wants to be in."
Sean Trende, the senior elections analyst for Real Clear Politics, thinks that political parties in individual states tend to conform to the views of the broader electorate in those states.