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GOP Primary Heats Up Arizona Senate Race

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Republicans are bracing for what could be a nasty primary in the race to replace retiring Sen. Jon Kyl (R).

Rep. Jeff Flake remains the frontrunner — both in the GOP primary and in a general election that Democrats are increasingly optimistic they can make competitive.

But before Flake can begin to focus on Democrat Richard Carmona, he faces what looks to be an interesting primary against wealthy real estate investor Wil Cardon.

Thanks in large part to his deep pockets and his self-funding thus far, Cardon has steadily picked up credibility. The latest numbers show he has put $4.2 million of his personal fortune into his campaign. So far, about $1 million of that has gone toward television buys.

“You can see that now that folks know there’s another alternative to Congressman Jeff Flake, you can see the support is switching,” Cardon spokeswoman Katie Martin said.

Flake has yet to go on television. He will between now and the Aug. 28 primary, but his campaign declined to say what its timeline is.

“I just don’t see it at all,” a source in the Flake campaign countered. “The guy has spent a million dollars. We do a lot of polling work, and it’s not having any kind of real effect of moving the ball forward.”

One odd angle to the dynamic is how little attention the Senate race has actually garnered.  Typically, Senate campaigns dwarf House races in interest, but not so in Arizona.

Redistricting upset the state’s political stability. The state features three tossup House races and several high-profile primaries, including a Member-vs.-Member race between GOP Reps. Ben Quayle and David Schweikert. There is also the special election to replace former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) and the continuing drama surrounding 4th district GOP candidate Paul Babeu’s personal life.

Add to that the fact that President Barack Obama’s campaign has begun to make noise about putting Arizona in play, and one can see why oxygen for the Senate race is sparse.

TV air time will be even harder to come by in the summer. The Phoenix market specifically will be inundated with political ads from competitive House primaries and other candidates looking to the fall.

But Cardon has been on air early and often this spring.  

Flake’s team has begun to respond to the Cardon camp in recent weeks with a series of press releases called “Fact Checks” criticizing Cardon statements. Those outside of Flake’s campaign point to that as a sign that the Congressman is taking him seriously.

In the context of a normal campaign, Flake has had strong fundraising. This past quarter he raised $935,000 and ended March with more than $3 million in the bank. To help combat Cardon’s self-financing, Flake has an effective fundraising ally in the Club for Growth.

“We fully expect him to be the next Senator from Arizona,“ Club spokesman Barney Keller said.

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