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Challenging race ahead for Jeff Flake?

It’s Christmas in August. I couldn’t be more excited that wealthy Mesa investor and businessman Wil Cardon announced last week that he was going to challenge Jeff Flake for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not because I think there’s something wrong with Flake or that Cardon would be a better senator or anything like that. I actually couldn’t care less about either candidate’s politics. My exhilaration is purely professional: What was shaping up to be a walk in the park for Flake now has the potential to be a challenging race, complete with millions of dollars in spending.

I’m as happy as a pig in slop.

When Sen. Jon Kyl announced in February that he wouldn’t seek re-election, it was a foregone conclusion that Flake would run for the seat. I had heard about a month earlier that Flake had been telling people Kyl was likely to retire and he had already hired Kyl’s fundraising specialist, a clear sign that he was ramping up for a statewide race and not for re-election to his East Valley congressional district.

Everyone expected U.S. Rep. Trent Franks to enter the race, and all signs pointed to a vigorous primary between him and Flake. But when he called an eleventh-hour audible and scuttled his candidacy less than 24 hours before he was planning an announcement, what had been shaping up to be a fun race to cover suddenly fizzled.

Sure, there still would be a Democratic nominee, but it wouldn’t be Gabby Giffords, the only Democrat given a serious chance to replace the Republican Kyl in a state that, though it may be growing steadily more purple, still defaults to the Republican side of the aisle.

But then came Cardon, who saved me (and every other political reporter) from having to cover a race where we already know who will win. Can he defeat Flake? I don’t know. Sure, Cardon has some hurdles to overcome: No one knows who he is, he doesn’t seem to be as charismatic as Flake and he seemed to stumble early, telling reporters he thinks Arizona’s congressmen need to bring more federal projects back to Arizona, a message that may not resonate with cut-government-now tea party voters. He also needs to come up with a compelling way to explain why he gave Flake nearly $9,000 in campaign contributions recent years and helped him raise money as recently as March.

But what we do know is that he is promising to outspend Flake, who already has $2 million in the bank, and has already begun to take shots at Flake’s stance on illegal immigration, which has long angered far-right Republicans in the state because he has advocated for a comprehensive reform package they deride as amnesty.

The race is already shaping up to be a good one. Selfishly, I hope it continues to be just that.

One comment

  1. Check your facts, please. Wil Cardon states he last contributed to Jeff Flake in March of 2009! Your “March” statement is misleading as it is incomplete. It matters when Wil no longer backed Jeff Flake. Flake disregarded a promise. THAT MATTERS, TOO.

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