With Sen. Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.) planning to retire after his term expires, Rep. Jeff Flake, a Phoenix-area congressman, has jumped into the GOP Senate primary. Joe Arpaio, the popular sheriff from Maricopa County, is mulling a primary bid. If Arpaio runs, expect a brawl over immigration: Flake, along with Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), has supported comprehensive immigration reform; Arpaio is a nationally recognized border hawk.
Last year, McCain faced a similar immigration battle in his primary, when challenger J.D. Hayworth, a former congressman, hammered the Senate veteran on his record. Does Flake expect his effort to mirror McCain’s? “I certainly expect a spirited primary,” Flake tells National Review Online. “At this point, I do not know who is going to be in it. That will determine how rough-and-tumble it gets.”
But Flake brushes off the notion that he can be successfully tagged as a supporter of amnesty. “No, no,” he tells us, shaking his head. “I have run several races in the most conservative district in the state and have had primaries that have focused on that topic. Arizona’s voters are extremely sophisticated and they know the score on this.”
In recent days, ailing Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in Tucson last month, has been mentioned as a potential Democratic contender. Flake welcomes the possibility. “I say, quite honestly, that my, and everyone’s, hope is that she is well enough to run a race for the Senate, because that means she is getting better.”
If elected, Flake tells us that he would probably not join the Senate’s Tea Party Caucus, which was recently founded by Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.). “I would have to look and see,” he says. “But there is a strong case to be made that the Tea Party should not be connected to Washington.”
When a similar caucus was organized in the House, Flake abstained from joining. “I don’t want to make people think that we are trying to direct what is happening out there,” he explains. “That is the last thing they want or need. But I would take the same fiscal record I’ve had in the House to the Senate.”
Flake notes that as a former director of the Goldwater Institute, an Arizona think tank, he has “particular fondness” for the late Barry Goldwater. “I think every Arizonan has some kind of Goldwater in them — independence and a little libertarian streak. Voters in Arizona expect that and like it.”
A recent Summit Consulting Group poll found Arpaio leading Flake, 21 percent to 16.8 percent, among likely GOP voters. Hayworth finished third with 16.6 percent.