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AZ Progressives See an Opening as Sen. Flake Retires

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., excoriated the divisive nature of modern politics as he declared his intention to retire when his term ends in 14 months. (Gage Skidmore)
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., excoriated the divisive nature of modern politics as he declared his intention to retire when his term ends in 14 months. (Gage Skidmore)
October 25, 2017

PHOENIX - Progressive groups in Arizona say they sense an opportunity now that Sen. Jeff Flake has decided to retire in 14 months, at the end of his term.

Flake, R-Ariz., has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump's political style. On Tuesday, he blasted the new way of doing business in Washington as "not normal."

Josselyn Berry, co-director of Progress Now Arizona, said Trump has pushed his party so far to the right that it creates an opening for Democrats in a state where Trump won by only 3.6 percent of the vote.

"It's a sign of how radical and misguided the Republican Party has become," Berry said. "They've let themselves be hijacked by the extremists in their party, to the point that they've pushed out someone as principled and reasonable as Sen. Jeff Flake. And I think what it really shows is that the Republican Party is really out of touch with the values of Arizona people."

Democrats oppose Flake because he supported repealing the Affordable Care Act, but many say they also admire his support of comprehensive immigration reform.

His departure leaves the Republican primary wide open in 2018. The current leading contender is state Sen. Kelli Ward of Lake Havasu City, a strong Trump supporter who is backed by Republican strategist Steve Bannon. U.S. Rep. Krysten Sinema of Tucson is the leading candidate on the Democratic side.

Petra Falcon, executive director of the group Promise Arizona, said Flake's announcement changes everything.

"Everybody was assuming that Jeff Flake would probably be the lead in this race," she said, "but this is going to open the door for other contenders."

Several other Republicans are rumored to be considering a race, including State Treasurer Jeff De Wit and Robert Graham, former chairman of the state Republican Party.

A C-Span video of Flake's announcement is online at c-span.org.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - AZ