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Flake Retiring; McConnell-Allied PAC Vows to Keep Bannon Pick Out

WASHINGTON -- The GOP senator who wrote a scathing critique of the Trump era and was being targeted in a Bannon-backed primary challenged will retire instead of facing re-election.

Ahead of his official announcement that he will serve the rest of his term but not run again, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told the Arizona Republic that he believes "there may not be a place for a Republican like me in the current Republican climate or the current Republican Party."

"This spell will pass, but not by next year," he said of the Trump influence on the party.

"Here's the bottom line: The path that I would have to travel to get the Republican nomination is a path I'm not willing to take, and that I can't in good conscience take," Flake said. "It would require me to believe in positions I don't hold on such issues as trade and immigration and it would require me to condone behavior that I cannot condone."

Flake, who was re-elected six times in the House before winning Sen. Jon Kyl's (R-Ariz.) former seat in 2012, noted that he didn't think running as an independent was a path to victory.

Former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who was endorsed last week by former White House chief strategist and Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon in his "war" against the GOP establishment, has led Flake for the nomination in several recent polls. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) trounced Ward by 20 points in 2016 when she tried to primary the former GOP presidential nominee.

Out in the lead for the Democratic nomination is Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), a moderate member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition in the House.

With Flake out, possible GOP hopefuls could include Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), the first American woman to fly in combat, or Rep. Dave Schweikert (R-Ariz.).

"Sen. Jeff Flake will be remembered for a distinguished and impactful career in Congress, as well as his independent streak and genial manner," Steven Law, president and CEO of the Senate Leadership Fund super PAC allied with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said in a statement.

"The one political upshot of Sen. Flake’s decision today is that Steve Bannon’s hand-picked candidate, conspiracy-theorist Kelli Ward, will not be the Republican nominee for this Senate seat in 2018," Law, who is McConnell's former chief of staff, added.

In remarks on the Senate floor today, McConnell said he was "grateful that the senator from Arizona will be here for another year and a half."

"We have big things to try to accomplish for the American people," the GOP leader added. "From my perspective, the senator from Arizona has been a great team player – always trying to get a constructive outcome no matter what the issue before us.”