Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) surprised his colleagues and the media on Tuesday by announcing that he won't seek re-election in 2018, saying on the Senate floor that he won't be "complicit" in President Trump's "unacceptable" behavior any longer for a GOP that's become a "fearful, backward-looking minority party." But Flake was almost certainly going to lose his primary. "Flake was dead," said Jonathan Swan at Axios. "Everybody knew it, including Republican leadership." Democrats and Republicans both said that Flake's retirement boded well for their electoral chances in increasingly purple Arizona.
On the one hand, Flake's retirement "boosted Democratic optimism about what once seemed unthinkable: winning control of the Senate in 2018," The Washington Post reports, a steep climb since Democrats are defending 25 seats — 10 in states Trump won — while Republicans are defending just eight seats. "Democrats already were investing in Arizona's 2018 race on the theory that the state's growing Latino electorate and Trump's unpopularity would make it competitive," the Post says, and the party has a candidate, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D), it believes has a good shot at capitalizing on the GOP split.
Establishment Republicans are sad to see Flake go, but their silver lining, Politico reports, is "they believe it gives the GOP a better chance of holding Arizona's seat — and the Senate majority." Flake was polling far behind his GOP challenger, Kelli Ward, and many Republican strategists see Ward as an unelectable crackpot. "Republicans are now floating a number of other candidates for Senate, looking for a contender who can draw support from the Trump White House and the establishment," Politico notes.
The risk for Republicans is that Ward, backed by Stephen Bannon and billionaire Robert Mercer, will win the GOP primary anyway. For Democrats, The Washington Post notes, Flake's retirement has "emboldened progressives who want the party, locked out of power at every level, to move further to the left," maybe too far left for Arizona.