Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake is in a tough spot headed into the 2018 election. His victory over the Democratic nominee is far from certain. But to even get that far, he must first triumph in the Republican primary.
Relatively few senators face serious primary challenges as incumbents seeking re-election, but every so often one finds themselves in the crosshairs of their own party’s voters. Jeff Flake, one of the most staunchly anti-Trump Republicans, is battered not only by insurgent challengers, but also a hostile White House openly urging his defeat.
Flake’s chances of winning a Republican primary have fallen
One recent poll shows a grim future for the junior Arizona senator. Polling has pegged his overall approval rating as low as 18 percent. Even worse, a HighGround survey of GOP primary voters found Flake trailing former state senator Kelli Ward by fourteen points: 42 percent to 28 percent.
Ward is a Tea party-turned-pro-Trump hardliner. Like a disappointingly large number of Republicans, she takes exception to Flake’s laissez-faire views on immigration and antagonistic relationship with the president.
The situation is not dissimilar to that faced by Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska in 2010. She lost the Republican primary in a surprise upset to far-right candidate Joe Miller. But Murkowski continued in the general election. After an outreach to the Libertarian Party soured, Murkowski ran and won in the general election as a write-in candidate.
Right now, it looks as though Flake’s chances of winning the Republican primary are not great. And if he did win, his odds in the general election don’t look that good, either.
Jeff Flake could win a three way race as a Libertarian, or Independent
A race against a Trumpublican and a Democrat could be won on a plurality in a three-way split, lowering the ceiling necessary to obtain a win.
Flake has not yet given any indication of switching parties or abandoning the GOP, but his small-government, free-market, and socially moderate views would make him a plausible fit for the Libertarians. Alternately, he could simply become an independent conservative.
Because of Arizona’s ballot access laws, a so-called “sore loser” is not allowed to run in the general election, unless he first withdraws from the Republican primary to be held in August 2018. If Flake does decide to bail on a party that has left him behind in the era of Donald Trump, he will have to pull the trigger prior to that date.
(Photo of Sen. Jeff Flake speaking at the 2016 Arizona Manufacturing Summit at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, Arizona by Gage Skidmore, used with permission.)