By Jim Ellis
Feb. 15, 2017 — Just after the Nov. 8 election, Remington Research conducted a Republican voters’ statewide Arizona survey (Nov. 15-16; 1,122 likely 2018 Republican primary voters via automated response device), as we previously covered, and found Sen. Jeff Flake (R) to be in trouble … in his own primary. Now, a new poll seems to confirm Flake’s weakness.
The previous data showed the incumbent trailing state Treasurer Jeff DeWit (R), 42-33 percent, in a hypothetical Republican primary. The same sample found former state senator and 2016 US Senate candidate Kelli Ward tied with Flake, 35-35 percent. Ward attracted 40 percent of the vote against Sen. John McCain in the 2016 Republican US Senate primary. In a three-way race, DeWit led Flake and Ward, 38-30-15 percent, respectively. Perhaps most disconcerting for the senator was his favorability index among the Republican sample group, 30:49 percent favorable to unfavorable.
Now comes a new Political Marketing International poll (Feb. 7; 921 likely 2018 Republican primary voters via automated response device) that again brings warning signs to Sen. Flake. According to this current data, Flake actually trails Ward, 23-30 percent. DeWit, who has not committed to run for Senate though he did announce that he’ll retire as state treasurer, was not tested in this particular poll.
Sen. Flake engaged in a back-and-forth war of words with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump during the campaign, but has been quiet since the latter won the national election. If the PMI data is accurate, however, it tells us that the Republican electorate still views Sen. Flake negatively, and his past relationship with President Trump is likely at the heart of his problems within his own party’s primary vote base.
On the other hand, PMI does not have a long track record to gauge reliability. Their most prominent polling was conducted in the Speaker Paul Ryan 2016 Republican primary when, just weeks before the nominating election, they projected the incumbent to hold only a 42-33 percent advantage over his GOP opponent, Paul Nehlen. Speaker Ryan would go onto win re-nomination from his southern Wisconsin congressional district by an 84-16 percent super landslide margin.
Whether or not the PMI data can be regarded as reliable, it does fall into the same realm as the other available polling data. Therefore, while the numbers may or may not be wholly accurate, the overall trend suggests that Sen. Flake has inherent base problems with which he must soon deal.
The new data largely confirms that he is vulnerable in the Republican primary, which certainly weakens the senator for the general election. Expect the Democrats to take advantage of this situation, move Arizona up on their conversion target list, and build upon a major recruiting effort to field a strong general election candidate.
Whether Sen. Flake is in serious danger of being denied re-nomination remains to be seen, but it is clear that the Arizona situation certainly bears watching.