Flake Drops '18 Senate Bid:
What It Means
Junior Senator’s Decision Leaves Kyrsten Sinema, Kelli Ward As The Potential Front-Runners In Arizona Race
U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R) Arizona, hopes to retain his U.S. Senate seat, but republican challenger Kelli Ward, left and U.S. Rep Kyrsten Sinema (D) Arizona, will likely present tough challenges for him. Image by Gage Skidmore and used under the terms of a Creative Commons license.
By Karen Weil
Modern Times Magazine
Oct. 24, 2017 — On Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake announced that he will not seek re-election next year.
According to an Arizona Republic article, ahead of his formal announcement, Flake said he has become convinced “there may be not be a place for a Republican like me in the current Republican climate or the current Republican Party.”
While speaking on the U.S. Senate floor on Tuesday, Flake said, “I’ve decided that I would be better able to represent the people of Arizona and to better serve my country and my conscience by freeing myself of the political consideration that consumed far too much bandwidth and would cause me to compromise far too many principles.
“To that end, I’m announcing today that my service in the Senate will conclude at the end of my term in early Jan. 2019,” he added.
The news created a political jolt in Washington, D.C., as GOP senators attempt to forge ahead with a controversial tax reform plan while working with an unpopular president.
Formerly a U.S. House member, the 54-year-old Flake has served as a reliably conservative Republican vote over the years. He received an “F” from the Conservative Review, but a solid 67 percent from Heritage Action for America, an offshoot of The Heritage Foundation.
In terms of where Senators rank in the Beltway media world, especially compared to John McCain, Flake has kept a lower profile, as is common with most senators in their first term. Still, considering Arizona remains a Red State, Flake earlier seemed to be a shoo-in for a second term.
Until last year, that is. The junior senator from Arizona vocally opposed the nomination of Donald Trump as the GOP presidential nominee and has remained a strong critic of the unpopular president -- who won Arizona last year in the election, but whose approval rating there now hovers around 40 percent.
Based on recent polling, Flake’s overall approval rating is not great, either. According to a recent article in the Hill, Flake “scored only a 25 percent favorability rating among Republican primary voters in a new poll by the left-leaning GBA Strategies group, with a 56 percent unfavorable rating.
“Over half of voters disapprove of the job Flake is doing, with 59 percent disapproving and only 34 percent approving,” the Hill reported.
Earlier this year, Flake’s book Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle offered sharp criticism of Trump, describing him as a threat to democracy, conservative principles and the United States in general.
In the book, Flake also took on the Republican Party for having enabled Trump (although he has been a reliable “yes” vote for the president’s mostly stalled agenda).
Real Clear Politics describes Flake as “[not] a generic Republican.” Along with his recent dust-up with Trump, Flake has reached out to Democrats in Congress – for example, in 2013 he was part of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” that unsuccessfully attempted immigration reform.
Arizona political watchers say there’s a solid chance that former state Sen. Kelli Ward, his main GOP challenger, could win next year’s primary – something once considered impossible, given Ward’s reputation among some voters as an extremist who recently received an endorsement from Stephen Bannon, formerly Trump’s White House chief strategist.
Unless some other Republicans join the fray, Ward is likely a shoo-in.
Along with Ward, other Republican hopefuls include are Craig Brittain, who founded a “revenge porn” website; and Nicholas Tortura, a pharmacist and professional speaker.
Meanwhile, a solid Democratic challenger has emerged: U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who announced her candidacy in late September.
In a recent YouTube video, Sinema said, In a YouTube video posted Thursday, Sinema said, “It’s time to put our country ahead of party, ahead of politics.”
Flake’s team was quick to respond, calling Sinema “a radical progressive who is out of touch with Arizona.”
The Phoenix GOP consulting firm HighGround Public Affairs recently release a poll showing Ward leading Flake by 14 percent, with Sinema ahead of Flake by 8 points.
Other Democrats running are Deedra Abboud, a Phoenix attorney; Jim Moss, a small business owner; and Chris Russell, an attorney and veteran. One Libertarian, Doug Marks, is also running.
Richard Herrera, an associate professor at Arizona State University, said Flake’s lower approval ratings are “driven by the perception that he’s not as conservative as he is.
“Trump’s complaints about him resonate with base supporters, so to the extent that polls are driven by GOP voters who supported Trump, Flake may be characterized in a way that is inconsistent with his voting record in the Senate,” said Herrera, who is also associate director at ASU’s School of Politics & Global Studies.
Herrera also said that Ward is liable to gain traction from pro-Trump voters.
Sinema’s entrance into the race does increase the chances of Democrats winning next year, Herrera added, “insofar as she is considered a high-quality candidate, because she is an incumbent member of the House of Representatives with a record of mounting strong campaigns and raising campaign funds.”
In Herrera’s view, Arizona voters in 2018 will probably focus on the economy, education and immigration. However, “it’s always difficult to predict because international affairs may change rapidly and affect issues,” he added.
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