PHOENIX — U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona could find his 2018 re-election campaign in the crosshairs of both President Donald Trump and advocacy groups funded by the president’s supporters.
According to a report from BuzzFeed News, Trump’s top advisor, Steve Bannon, is urging some of the president’s supporters with some deep pockets to financially support a nonprofit called America First.
The group is being pitched as an advocacy group to support Trump’s presidential agenda. But America First could be used to try to oust politicians on both sides of the aisle who do not support the president through a cooperative called the Great America Alliance.
The alliance is made up of several Trump-affiliated groups, including the Great America PAC that splashed $27 million on Trump’s election campaign. An unidentified high-level official in the group told BuzzFeed News that the Great America Alliance will “absolutely” target troublesome Republicans.
One of those targeted politicians could be Flake.
The senator has been one of Trump’s loudest critics, despite them both representing the Republican Party. The pair first squared off during a GOP unity meeting in July and the relationship deteriorated from there.
Some Republican officials, including U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) have urged Flake to work with Trump.
People “aren’t right now real happy with Sen. Flake,” said Arizona GOP Rep. Paul Gosar, who briefly weighed a primary run against Flake before ruling it out 24 hours later. “I think you ought to be starting to work in concert with the nominee. He obviously touched a nerve within the country; that’s a little more than our two senators have been part of, and I think that they need to jump on board and start helping out instead of creating a problem,” Gosar told BuzzFeed News.
After Trump’s November election win, Flake said he was ready to put the past behind him and work with the president. Flake did support Trump’s vice president pick, Mike Pence, and approved of his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
But that doesn’t mean Flake is out of the potential hot water. Far from it, actually.
A September report said Flake only has $594,000 in his re-election coffers, which is low for an incumbent senator who could face pressure from both the president and donors in 2018.
Flake’s re-election bid would likely be challenging even without external pressure. One challenger, former state Sen. Kelli Ward, announced her candidacy shortly after losing to Sen. John McCain in November and former Trump COO and Arizona Treasurer Jeff DeWit is considering tossing his hat into the ring.
However, there are concerns about both Ward and DeWit. Some GOPers are worried Trump’s populist style of campaigning would not transition well to down-ballot races, meaning Ward — who has painted herself as a Trump-esque candidate — may not be as popular with voters statewide.
A DeWit campaign backed by Trump would put the White House directly at odds with several GOP institutions. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is in charge of getting Republicans into the Senate, has defended incumbent senators the last two election cycles.
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