Feb. 13, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

GOP Primary Heats Up Arizona Senate Race

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Cardon has obviously sought to offset the Club’s involvement with what he calls the “Arizona First Pledge.” On his website, he displays a letter to Flake seeking a ban on spending from outside groups, similar to the agreement in the Massachusetts Senate race between Sen. Scott Brown (R) and Harvard professor Elizabeth Warren.

Flake has yet to respond to the letter.

Democrats, for their part, delight in the notion of Cardon creating trouble for Flake.

Jeff Flake is a career politician who has never had a competitive election, and between his flip-flops on immigration reform to his work as a lobbyist, he has a lot of vulnerabilities that have never been scrutinized in the context of a real political campaign,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matt Canter said.

Rep. Ed Pastor said he has seen Cardon’s ads and argued that at the very least, from a financial standpoint, Republicans can’t be happy about the primary.

“I was in Tucson two weeks ago, and he was playing in Tucson. So he’s identifying himself,” the Arizona Democrat said. “I would think with [Cardon] being a self-funder — that Jeff is going to have a primary, and by having a primary, it means your monies are diminished.”

But those in Flake’s camp maintain that Cardon will do little damage to the Congressman’s general election prospects.

Republican strategists, meanwhile, are conflicted over whether the Arizona seat is actually in play. Most agree, though, that unless the primary grows increasingly hostile, it will have little effect on the general election.

Cardon’s main line of attack is on immigration, an issue on which many hard-line conservatives perceive Flake as soft. His website labels the Congressman as “Mr. Amnesty.” One national strategist said that the issue could be “an albatross” for the lawmaker.

The Flake source noted that polling data shows that immigration, while still an important issue, is not on the voters’ minds like it was in 2010. Pocketbook issues like health care and the deficit are more prominent.

Flake supporters maintain that he cannot be outflanked on fiscal issues, and part of their strategy seems to be in painting Cardon as too extreme.

Cardon recently hedged when asked if Obama is a natural born citizen, according to the Arizona Republic. But the Cardon campaign responded vigorously to Roll Call when pressed on the matter.  

“Wil Cardon believes that he [President Obama] was duly elected to the office of the President of the United States,” Martin, Cardon’s spokeswoman, said.

In 2010, Sen. John McCain (R) used comments by former Rep. J.D. Hayworth on the birther issue to portray him as too extreme in their GOP primary. McCain ultimately won handily.

Cardon has four months to make his case to voters. Most Republicans assume he will not be able to close the gap with Flake. But if Cardon continues to spend freely, he would not be the first self-funder to create trouble for a frontrunner.

Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.

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