In Arizona, Democrats Bet On an Action Hero

"I do think it motivated a lot of people, especially in the Latino community, to get involved and it energized them," state House Minority Leader Chad Campbell (D) told TalkingPointsMemo, which noted that the Obama campaign has also included Arizona in its swing-state plans, thanks largely to a riled-up Latino base.

And Arizona Democrats did win the Phoenix mayoral race in 2011.

Flake, meanwhile, has turned hard to the right, after he co-authored a major immigration reform bill with Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.). Their bill contained the same broad strokes as the reform push undertaken in 2007 by Sens. John McCain and Ted Kennedy. Flake has since abandoned the comprehensive approach, making the same turn McCain did before his Senate reelection campaign in 2010.

"I've been down that road, and it is a dead end," Flake said in March 2011. "The political realities in Washington are such that a comprehensive solution is not possible, or even desirable given the current leadership. Border security must be addressed before other reforms are tackled."

Flake's primary competitor, businessman Wil Cardon, will harp on immigration during their primary contest. "He's been terrible on immigration," Cardon told ABC News. "He's been for open borders and amnesty his entire time in Congress."

Carmona supports the broad strokes of comprehensive reform -- enhanced border security and a pathway to some form of permanent residency -- thereby setting up a campaign in which Flake runs against his own former policies and Carmona touts the general outline of Flake's own bill.

Immigration, it so happens, is part of the reason Carmona is running as a Democrat.

"I couldn't buy into the value proposition that some of the Republicans were touting," Carmona told ABC, speaking about the GOP tendency to rally around deportation and loudly decry the large population of illegal immigrants in the U.S.

This growing optimism, plus having landed Carmona as a candidate, has led national Democrats to include Arizona on their list of target states in 2012 Senate campaigns, along with competitive Democratic-held seats like Virginia and the more likely takeover of Republican incumbent Scott Brown's seat in Massachusetts.

Plus, in his December YouTube presentation of Obama's geographical path to victory, the president's campaign manager Jim Messina listed Arizona as the prime state Obama could pick up in 2012, from among those he lost in 2008. But if he is to have a chance, he needs a compelling Senate candidate to campaign with, not one who will run away from him on issues like health care or immigration.

It's no wonder Obama picked up the phone for Carmona, who is nothing if not compelling.

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