FACT CHECK: Did Flake Really Have Almost No Chance Of Re-Election, As Trump Claims?
As the recent feuding between President Trump and GOP Senators continues to intensify, on Wednesday morning President Trump tweeted that long-time Trump critic Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) suddenly dropped out of his Senate re-election campaign this past Tuesday because he had essentially “zero chance” of winning.
Senator Jeff Flake faced abysmally low and deeply entrenched polling numbers with both Arizona Republicans and general election voters. Despite decent fundraising, Senator Flake also faced a challenger that was already running well ahead of him, making his chances quite dismal.
While it is impossible to say for sure the real reason Senator Flake declined re-election, it is possible to examine President Trump’s claims about Senator Flake’s re-election chances based on the political landscape Senator Flake faced and the resources he had.
By time the Senator Flake announced his decision on Tuesday, he was facing not only what looked like essentially no chance in general election but also seemed very likely to lose the primary to a candidate who was already polling exceedingly well.
Senator Flake has in recent years tried to triangulate Arizona politics with consistently poor results in favorability and support, even before President Trump’s campaign and Presidency. A long-time Trump critic and attempted moderate, even in his initial election there were already warnings signs – while in 2012 Romney won Arizona with 53.5% of the vote, Senator Flake only won the state with only 49.2%.
As early as 2013, Flake already faced a 51% disapproval rating and 32% approval rating, albeit at the time he still had net positive support among Republicans in Arizona at least. As time has gone on, his impression with Arizona voters – and particularly Republicans — has only continued to sink.
Recent data has showed Senator Flake, who a July 2017 poll found to be the third most unpopular Senator, facing extreme disapproval among both general election voters and Republican primary voters in Arizona. An August 2017 poll by Public Policy Polling put Senator Flake’s overall approval rating in Arizona at a meager 18%, with over 62% disapproving.
While a Morning Consult poll this month showed his approval rating had improved to 30%, nonetheless he lacked even the support of his own party, as only 37% of Republicans approved of Senator Flake with 50% disapproving.
Senator Jeff Flake also already faced a strong declared primary challenger, Kelli Ward. According to a JMC Analytics poll in August, Kelli Ward already led Senator Flake 47% to 21%, in line with other polls that consistently showed Ward with double-digit support over Senator Flake.
That a relatively unknown candidate who, as of the September 2017 FEC filings, had only $280,000 cash on hand ($840,000 spent) to Senator Flake’s $3.4 million cash on hand and $2.1 million spent, not even including the intervention of Mitch McConnell’s Super PAC, could be leading Senator Flake consistently by almost double his support is extraordinary.
Furthermore, that Senator Flake is an incumbent Senator with near-universal name recognition in Arizona and among Arizona Republicans showed that he likely had little chance to change those numbers.
Lastly, even if somehow he squeaked by the primary, his Democratic challenger already has $4.2 million in cash and was leading Flake by over 8 points.
Based on this difficult situation, it is Senator Flake would have almost certainly been unable to win both the primary and general election. President Trump’s claim appears to be correct.