Sen. Jeff Flake is under fire from all sides as Democratic Rep. Krysten Sinema considers jumping into the 2018 Senate race in Arizona.
Targeted on the Right for and facing a Republican primary for his tough criticism of President Trump, Flake, 54, now has to worry about a tough general election battle from the Democrats, as Sinema, 41, signals plans to run.
“I’ve heard from many Arizonans encouraging me to run for United States Senate. It is something I am seriously considering,” the congresswoman said Friday in a statement.
It’s a double whammy for Flake, who faces a late summer primary next year from possibly multiple candidates who aren’t top-tier challengers but could be well-funded by conservative activists who are motivated to defeat one of Trump’s political enemies.
Kelli Ward, already in the race, was soundly defeated in the 2016 primary by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. She is hoping for better luck against Flake. The first-term senator didn’t endorse Trump in 2016 because of disagreements over his rhetoric and personal behavior, which rankled the president.
To compound matters, Flake published a book, Conscience of a Conservative; a Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle, that was basically a screed against Trump and the damage he believes the president is doing to the Republican Party.
Laura Ingraham, a conservative talk show host and Fox News personality, reacted by encouraging Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel to consider triggering rules to allow the party to work against Flake in his primary.
“What does the RNC do? You sit out primaries?” Ingraham asked. McDaniel answered yes except under unusual circumstances as called for under GOP regulations, as is party policy, to which Ingraham responded: “If there were ever an example of a time where the party should go to extraordinary means … this might be an opportunity for that.”
The Flake campaign, which is ramping up, is projecting confidence in the senator’s political standing.
Ward is viewed as a flawed messenger who will suffer from the same controversies that helped sink her 2016 bid. Sinema is seen as a potentially strong candidate who will face the same roadblocks every other Democrat running for president or Senate has faced since 1996 when President Bill Clinton won there: Arizona is a red state.
“There is a lot of chatter and speculation, but our campaign is ready for anyone,” Flake campaign spokesman William Allison said.
Senate Democrats are defending 10 seats that Trump won in November, some of them deeply Republican, and much of their resources are going to be spent playing defense.
Sinema’s candidacy, if she formally announces, could unlock some Democratic cash for Arizona.
She has a decidedly liberal voting record in the House but has tried to cut a pragmatic image, working with Republicans on legislation that would repeal one of Obamacare’s surtaxes.
Backing a woman in an ethnically diverse state Democrats believe will side with them under the right circumstances, especially with few other offensive opportunities other than Nevada, could motivate the Democratic donors and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the party’s Senate campaign arm, to get involved.
The DSCC declined to comment on Friday, although a spokesman pointed the Washington Examiner to advertising and other political activity the committee has invested in targeting Flake, possibly as a sign of things to come.
Republican groups are prepared to defend Flake. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP campaign arm, and Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have signaled their intention to spend money in Arizona to protect the incumbent.