PHOENIX – After a campaign marked by flip-flopping positions on the emotional issue of immigration, the GOP will hold a primary election to nominate a candidate to run for the seat of retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl.
Six-term Rep. Jeff Flake is the favorite to win Arizona's Republican nomination in one of this election year's final round of primaries, which will also see the ousting of one of two freshmen incumbent GOP House members pitted against each other by redistricting. Five other House incumbents, including Gabrielle Giffords' hand-picked successor, face challengers.
Voters in Alaska and Oklahoma also will decide House races.
In Arizona, Democrats are hoping the surprisingly aggressive — and costly — challenge to Flake by wealthy businessman Wil Cardon will give them their best shot in years at taking one of the state's two Senate seats. The Democratic challenge by moderate Richard Carmona, a former surgeon general under President George W. Bush, 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.
Arizona hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since Dennis DeConcini won his third term in 1988, but Democrats are hoping the primary attacks on Flake have weakened his standing and his bank account.
"Jeff Flake has been a little wounded by the primary," said Jim Pederson, a former Democratic Party chairman who lost an expensive race six years ago to Kyl. "I think a lot of the issues that Wil brought up will kind of resonate with people. I think (the general election) is going to be very close."
Cardon spent $6 million of his own money trying 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's dramatic change on immigration, 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 is widely seen as having begun to cede the race in the past month, turning positive in his campaign messages and ending months of expensive television ad buys.
The Justice Department said Monday that federal observers will be dispatched Tuesday to make sure that Maricopa County follows the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. That law prohibits discrimination in the election process on the basis of race, color or membership in a minority language group.
Maricopa County is the home of controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who faces a federal lawsuit alleging his office racially profiled Latinos.
In Alaska, five Democrats are vying for the chance to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young, who has held his seat for 40 years. Young has two challengers, but is expected to easily win his primary.
In Oklahoma, two Republicans and two Democrats are vying in runoff elections for their parties' nominations for the seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Dan Boren.
One or both major parties have primary races in all nine of Arizona's U.S. House districts, including the two-incumbent rivalry between freshman Republican Reps. Ben Quayle and David Schweikert in the 6th Congressional District centered on Scottsdale. Quayle moved into the district — the bulk of which he previously represented — after redistricting put him in a neighboring district considered more competitive with Democrats.
Barber, a former aide to Giffords, was elected in June to serve out her term after she resigned to concentrate on her recovery from the head injury she suffered in the January 2011 mass shooting in Tucson.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.