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2018 Fight for Flake’s seat in the making

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U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, begins the 2018 election cycle with $580,000 in the bank, a history of disagreeing with President Donald Trump – and a target on his back.

With almost two years until midterm elections, experts say Flake can expect serious opposition in his re-election bid from both Republican and Democratic challengers.

Despite the president’s lukewarm performance in approval polls, he is still relatively popular with Arizona Republicans, which could make for a difficult primary for Flake and force him to veer right.

And if Flake survives the primary, Trump’s unpopularity with the rest of the electorate could cause problems in the midterm general election, which historically goes against the party of the sitting president.

“The weakest link (of potential Republican candidates) without question is Jeff Flake,” said David Waid, a partner with political consulting firm Javelina and the former chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party. “There’s a target on his back.”

The only Republican challenger to have entered the race so far is Kelli Ward, a former state senator who unsuccessfully ran against Sen. John McCain in 2016.

Flake’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the election, except to confirm that he does plan to run for re-election. But when Ward announced her bid in October, Flake said he will be ready for any challenges.

“Shots at a seat in the Senate don’t come along very often, so we fully expect capable challengers next cycle, both in the primary and the general,” he said in a statement released by his office at the time. “We’ll be prepared.”

Ward has branded herself a Washington outsider and a conservative in the mold of the president. She said she thinks that Flake’s finances, coupled with the same sentiment in Arizona that elected Trump, could carry her past the incumbent senator, and eventually, to the Senate.

But Ward faces an even more daunting fundraising challenge than Flake. She ended her 2016 campaign with about $52,000 on hand compared to Flake’s $580,000, according to their year-end reports with the Federal Election Commission.

That said, Arizona State University political science professor David Wells said Flake’s finances still leave something to be desired.

“He’s going to need to raise $5 (million) to $10 million for re-election,” Wells said. “If he wins the nomination, he’ll get support from other groups because they don’t want to lose the seat. But I don’t know how much help he’ll get in the primaries.”

At this point in his last election cycle, however, two years before Flake would win a Senate race for the first time, his 2010 year-end FEC report showed he had around $628,000 on hand. By the end of that election cycle, he had raised more than $9 million.

“The key factor that might throw cold water on a lot of these candidates is Jeff Flake’s campaigning and fundraising prowess,” said Jaime Molera, a partner at public affairs firm Molera Alvarez.

“He has incredible depth of supporters that will raise him a lot of money,” said Molera, who served as a spokesman for Flake’s predecessor, Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Arizona. “Club for Growth (a conservative political action committee), they’ve shown they’re very willing to go deep for him.”

Ward said Flake is still vulnerable because of his support of “amnesty that people don’t want here” and for his support for the Trans Pacific Partnership, the multinational trade deal that Trump pulled the U.S. out of in his first days in office.

Ward was referencing Flake’s sponsorship last year of the SAFE Act, which would extend three years of protection to immigrants who are already protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. But that act would also have required that the Department of Homeland Security detain undocumented immigrants arrested or convicted of major crimes.

Although Ward is the only confirmed primary challenger, Arizona Treasurer Jeff DeWit is also reported to be planning to run. DeWit served as COO for Trump’s presidential campaign.

Ward said she received personal assurance from DeWit that he would not run if she did. DeWit’s office would not confirm his intentions to run.

Should he run, DeWit would be viewed more favorably by GOP primary voters than Flake or Ward, according to a survey conducted by conservative-leaning polling company Remington Research Group from Nov. 15-16. The poll of just over 1,100 likely GOP primary voters also showed that DeWit had a higher chance of defeating Flake in the primary than Ward.

Whoever wins the primary, Waid said, the Democrats would still have a good chance, pointing to what he called a “strong (Democratic) bench.” Potential Democratic challengers could include Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, and Ann Kirkpatrick, a former congresswoman who lost in her bid to unseat McCain in 2016 – though neither has confirmed or could return requests for comment.

“Other primary candidates may not come out quite as battered, but they will come out of the mainstream. They will be carrying with them, good or bad, Donald Trump,” he said. “For typical administrations, the midterms are not friendly to the incumbent party. That kind of thing can be a detriment to Flake in the general election.”

5 comments

  1. The Latino voter will have a say in any election from this point forward. So any policies that would negatively impact children, families, women and senior citizens will be looked and viewed through that lens. This may be a Republican controlled state and we have “good” solid Republicans, but Latinos will look carefully at both sides to see if candidates have favorable views in their best interests. Latinos are not going away! Interest include better wages, jobs, business lending, public school support and medical insurance. You all may not like immigrants, but that too will be reformed, as will positive and fair trade with our southern neighbors and setting education priorities for our children. Be careful candidates you are being watched by Latinos on both sides and both parties.

  2. It’s too bad that a thinking candidate like Jeff Flake isn’t evaluated strictly on his merits, but rather on his fundraising ability and the weaknesses and strengths of his party (especially now the Republican Party has fractured into at least three factions: the old-line conservative, Trumpians, and the Bannonesque ultra-right). Flake looks better all the time.

  3. Kelly Ward stands a good chance as a Washington outsider. Americans need leadership that can get things done and maybe that could be Ward. Flake stands for less govt, more freedom and individual responsibility which all sounds good but he must back those values up with action.

  4. Jeff Flake is just a western version of Chuck u> Schumer please support Kelli Ward.

  5. The ability to raise money plays a huge role in winning an election. Too often it leaves the candidate with a huge political debt to repay that has little benefit to the majority of his constituents. Although Jeff Flake is serving his first term, he has become part of the entrenched establishment. We truly need to revisit term limits and bring reperesentation back to the people. Kelli Ward may be a good place to start.

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