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Flake Eyes 2020 Primary Challenge      03/16 06:12

   Jeff Flake has a direct message for the Republicans of New Hampshire: 
Someone needs to stop Donald Trump. And Flake, a Republican senator from 
Arizona, may stand up against the Republican president in 2020 -- either as a 
Republican or an independent -- if no one else does.

   MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) -- Jeff Flake has a direct message for the Republicans 
of New Hampshire: Someone needs to stop Donald Trump. And Flake, a Republican 
senator from Arizona, may stand up against the Republican president in 2020 -- 
either as a Republican or an independent -- if no one else does.

   "It's not in my plan to run for president, but I am not ruling it out. 
Somebody needs to stand up for traditional Republicanism," Flake told The 
Associated Press in an interview. "Somebody needs to raise that, for nothing 
else than to give people hope that that decent party will be back. We'll get 
through this."

   Flake's comments came on the eve of his first solo political appearance in 
New Hampshire, the state expected to host the nation's first presidential 
primary election in less than two years. The 55-year-old Republican will 
deliver a speech Friday morning entitled "Country Over Party," as part of the 
esteemed "Politics and Eggs" speaker series at Saint Anselm College.

   Flake is among a very small group of Republican elected officials speaking 
out against the Trump presidency with increasing alarm.

   He has already written a book that slams Trump, condemned Trump on the 
Senate floor, and charged in a Thursday speech to the National Press Club that 
his party "might not deserve to lead" because of its blind loyalty to Trump. By 
visiting New Hampshire, Flake is now declaring the possibility of another 
tactic: a 2020 primary challenge.

   On the ground in the Granite State, a full year before presidential 
candidates typically begin courting local voters, there is already an 
expectation among top Republicans that Trump will face a challenge from within 
his own party in the next presidential contest. Yet few think Trump could be 
defeated, even under the worst circumstances.

   Steve Duprey, who represents New Hampshire at the Republican National 
Committee, said: "It's virtually impossible to beat an incumbent for the 
nomination. But that doesn't prevent people from trying with various degrees of 

   "I think there will be some primary," he added. "Whether it's a serious 
contender or a protest candidate that the president's team would have to take 
seriously, it's too early to tell."

   Despite Flake's fiery pronouncements, he would start out as an underwhelming 
presidential contender on paper.

   He is not well-known, he has little money of his own and a disdain for 
fundraising, and because he is retiring from the Senate at year's end, he has 
no political organization to help fuel his ambitions.

   Flake has powerful friends who could help, however, including the outspoken 
anti-Trump billionaire Mark Cuban.

   "I'm a Jeff Flake fan," Cuban told The Associated Press. 

   The billionaire, who is considering a presidential bid of his own, 
acknowledged that he doesn't know much about Flake's political ambitions. "But 
as a citizen of this great country, the more candidates for the office of 
president the better," Cuban said.

   Former New Hampshire GOP chair Jennifer Horn, a frequent Trump critic, said 
the GOP's struggles in recent special elections --- in addition to Trump's 
near-daily struggles --- make a primary challenge in 2020 more realistic than 
ever before.

   "There is a path, there is a possibility, but it's such a narrow path that 
it's hard to see who the right person would be," she said, acknowledging she 
didn't know Flake very well yet.

   In the interview, Flake acknowledged Trump was probably too popular among 
the Republican base to lose a Republican primary in the current political 

   "Not today, but two years from now, possibly. Things can unravel pretty 
fast," Flake said, suggesting that a disastrous mid-term election season for 
the GOP could realign voter loyalty. "As soon as he's viewed as one who loses 
majorities in the House and the Senate, and there's no chance that someone in 
the 30s can win re-election, people might move on."

   And if Trump's standing with the base doesn't fade, Flake would consider a 
presidential bid as an independent.

   "I'm not ruling that out either," he said. "There are going to be a lot of 
other people in the party looking for something else."

   He continued, "If you end up with Trump on one side, (Bernie) Sanders or 
(Elizabeth) Warren on the other, there's a huge swath of voters in the middle 
that make an independent run by somebody a lot more realistic."

   Trump has a special relationship with New Hampshire. 

   The state gave him his first victory of the 2016 Republican primary season. 
He earned 35 percent of the vote compared with second-place finisher John 
Kasich, the Ohio governor who is also weighing a 2020 run.

   And on Monday, just three days after Flake's visit, Trump is expected to 
make his first appearance in the state since winning the 2016 election.

   Flake wants New Hampshire voters to know there's another option. 

   "This has been my party my entire life. I'm not willing to concede that this 
is permanent," he said.  


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