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Rep. Jeff Flake hasn’t made many friends during nearly a dozen years in Congress, possibly hampering his ability to shut down an unexpectedly tough primary opponent in his bid for Arizona’s Republican nomination for Senate.
Flake’s limited-government approach and stubborn resistance to earmarks have long put him at odds with K Street, leaving him with less financial support from Washington, D.C., lobbyists than would otherwise be expected of a sitting Member running for a winnable open Senate seat. But Flake appears equally detached from his colleagues in Arizona’s Republican Congressional delegation, none of whom have expressed public enthusiasm about his Senate bid that is now threatened by Wil Cardon, a wealthy GOP businessman dumping large sums of his personal fortune into the primary.
Flake does have the broad support of Washington’s tea party community, including groups such as the Club for Growth and Members such as Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.). And Sen. John McCain has quietly headlined at least three fundraisers for the six-term Congressman since last summer. But among Arizona Republicans serving on Capitol Hill, Flake’s relationships are thin, with his libertarian approach to issues such as illegal immigration — he is not a hardliner — generating some ideological tension. A GOP operative with Arizona ties said Flake’s differences of opinion with Grand Canyon State Republicans on some key issues could explain why none had endorsed his Senate bid as of Wednesday.
Particularly because some of these Members are running in competitive House primaries of their own, backing Flake carries risks at home. “There are a decent amount of grass-roots conservative activists who don’t have the same view of Flake as people in Washington do,” a Congressional political operative said. “That’s the political reality. ... It comes down to, ‘Do you want to take that flak?’”
After a rough couple of months for Flake’s Senate campaign, his prospects appear to be improving as the Aug. 28 primary comes into view. If Flake is nominated, he and former Surgeon General Richard Carmona (D) will battle in the fall for the right to succeed retiring Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R).
Cardon continues to pummel Flake relentlessly on television, with the Congressman’s opponents on both sides of the aisle dumping opposition research to fuel a barrage of negative news stories. In fact, Flake has been vastly outspent, forcing him to burn through more resources in the primary than originally planned. So far, his delegation colleagues have yet to race to the Congressman’s rescue.