Not too much consideration was given to Kelli Ward when she announced a 2018 primary challenge against Flake almost an entire year ago. The former Republican state senator had just been defeated in the GOP primary after running a long-shot bid to unseat Sen. John McCain. Flake and friends still had their eye solely on the general election.
However, the logistics of the primary race changed drastically after primary polling began to roll in.
A Morning Consult poll released in June revealed Flake to have a dismal 37 percent approval ratingfrom registered voters. Then a survey conducted by HighGround in August showed Flake trailing Ward 42 percent to 25 percent – numbers so shocking the guys at FiveThirtyEight had a hard time believing them. But then in mid-September a new poll by GBA Strategies group came out. The latest survey showed Flake trailing Ward 58-31 percent in a head to head match up… the margin of error was plus or minus four percentage points.
Obviously these are numbers Flake’s team cannot ignore. He isn’t just underwater in a primary match up, he’s down by double digits.
It doesn’t take a genius to understand what’s happening to him. Flake has been an avid critic of the president. And for every time Flake has knocked Trump, the president has hit right back. Anyone with a Twitter account would know.
I attended Trump’s Phoenix rally in August and watched him (without actually naming Flake) make several jabs at the beleaguered senator. Interviewing various people in the crowd, I asked if they planned to vote for Flake next year… Everyone I spoke to said no.
Attacking Trump works for some people and it doesn’t work for others. Clearly, this isn’t working for Flake.
The GOP lawmaker recently authored a book titled, Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle. A rejection of the many populist and economic protectionist policies supported by Trump, the book was a harsh critique of the president.
In return, Trump, like a seasoned politician attacking his opponent, has consistently called Flake “weak” on everything under the sun. The attacks are clearly having an effect.
Flake had already entered the Senate on shaky grounds. A first term senator, he won election in 2012 by only three points against his Democrat contender. It was the worst showing for a Republican senate candidate since the eighties. 2012 was a bad year for the GOP — sure — but keep in mind that Mitt Romney won Arizona by nine points that year. Flake under-performed badly.
Election analysts are also suggesting Arizona is slowly shifting leftward. Trump won the state by only four points last year and several other Republicans under-performed, as well. This may all make another headache for Flake: the general election.
In a YouTube video published Thursday, Democrat Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema announced her campaign for Flake’s seat. In a clear sign of approval by the establishment Left, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and EMILY’s List quickly endorsed her.
Sinema is an interesting candidate. She touts a moderate record, chairing the political arm of the Blue Dogs — a group of centrist House Democrats. Sinema, however, also identifies as bisexual and describes herself as more-or-less an atheist. I have a hard time figuring out if this odd combination of centrism and progressive identity will work for her in a general election among light-red voters.
Either way, Flake has his work cut out for him. He has to claw his way out of red primary numbers and then face off against a formiddable general election challenger. In an election year with many GOP pickup opportunities, this seat is not among them.