PHOENIX (AP) – With the easy defeat of an unexpectedly aggressive primary challenger, Arizona Rep. and GOP Senate nominee Jeff Flake brushed off speculation of a bruised candidacy with a vow to repeal President Barack Obama’s economic and health care policies.
“This will be a great race because there are big differences between our philosophies,” Flake said of Democratic opponent Richard Carmona, a moderate who served as surgeon general under Republican President George W. Bush. “… Richard Carmona is President Obama’s hand-picked candidate for Arizona, and he shares the president’s agenda. And I don’t think it is the agenda Arizonans want.”
Flake took 70 percent of the Republican vote Tuesday, defeating wealthy businessman Wil Cardon and two lesser-known candidates for the nomination to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Jon Kyl.
Democrats are hoping the accusations of hypocrisy, broken promises and flip-flopping that marked the GOP primary weakened Flake and his bank account enough to give Carmona the best shot in years at taking one of the state’s two Senate seats. Arizona hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since Dennis DeConcini won his third term in 1988.
The push by Carmona comes as the GOP is fighting to pick up four more seats to wrest control of the chamber in advance of votes on key policy issues such as the possible repeal of President Barack Obama’s health care law and changes to the tax code.
Flake said he planned to focus on the economy and the repeal of Obama’s health care plan.
One or both major parties also had primary races in all nine of Arizona’s U.S. House districts, including a two-incumbent rivalry between freshmen Republicans pitted against each other by redistricting. Rep. David Schweikert defeated former Vice President Dan Quayle’s son, Rep. Ben Quayle.
And Rep. Ron Barber, a former aide who was hand-picked to succeed Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head in a January 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, fended off a challenge by former state Rep. Matt Heinz in the Democratic primary.
Primary voters in Alaska, Oklahoma and Vermont also decided House races.
In Arizona’s Senate primary, Cardon tried to paint Flake as a Washington insider who reneged on past promises to limit his terms in office. Opponents pointed to Flake’s little-known past as a Washington lobbyist for a uranium mine that was minority-owned by Iran. He also criticized Flake, saying he made a dramatic change on immigration, going from a supporter of comprehensive reform to backing policies that would first secure the border.
For his part, Cardon was accused of painting himself as tough on immigration, while a company he partly owned was fined for faulty paperwork in hiring workers with questionable legal status.
Cardon, who spent $6 million of his own money, said he believed Flake was “a better candidate because of the fights he had to go through.”
“We had a good campaign,” Cardon said. “Unfortunately we didn’t get through to all the voters.”
In Oklahoma, Westville plumbing company owner Markwayne Mullin defeated three-term state Rep. George Faught in a runoff for the Republican nomination for the seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Dan Boren. And longtime state and federal prosecutor Rob Wallace, of Fort Gibson, beat Muskogee seed company owner Wayne Herriman in the Democratic runoff.
Windsor businessman John MacGovern handily defeated a Republican primary opponent in the Vermont race to challenge independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in November.
In Alaska, state Rep. Sharon Cissna of Anchorage was leading a five candidate field of Democrats vying for the chance to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young, who has held his seat for 40 years.
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