Jeff Flake considers independent Senate run in Arizona


Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona is considering running for his seat as an independent and has given his blessing to an outside organization to conduct polling to explore the possibility, a source familiar with his thinking tells U.S. News.

Flake announced last Tuesday he would not seek re-election to a second Senate term next year in light of his dire chances of winning a Republican primary and his frustration with the tenure of President Donald Trump. Polling showed him trailing his insurgent challenger, Kelli Ward, by double digits.

But The Centrist Project, a group created to recruit independent candidates, has approached Flake about running outside the dominant two-party system, and he is open to the possibility.

The group is planning to poll Flake's chances as an independent in a three-way race this week.

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Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) questions Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) talks to reporters as he arrives for a Senate health care vote on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) laughs with fellow subcommittee member Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) (L) at the Senate Foreign Relations' Western Hemisphere Subcommittee hearing on President Barack Obama's changes to Cuba policy in Washington February 3, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 19: (AFP OUT) Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) (L) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) (R) attend a lunch with members of Congress hosted by US President Donald J. Trump (not pictured) in the State Dining Room of the White House on July 19, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Michael Reynolds - Pool/Getty Images)
MESA, AZ - APRIL 13: U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) speaks at a town hall event at the Mesa Convention Center on April 13, 2017 in Mesa, Arizona. It was the first such event this year for Flake, who is up for re-election in 2018, as Republican lawmakers across the country have been confronted with angry voters in similar settings. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 25: Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., right, and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., conduct a news conference in the Capitol to introduce an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) against ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban on May 25, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
MESA, AZ - APRIL 13: U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) speaks at a town hall event as critics show their displeasure at the Mesa Convention Center on April 13, 2017 in Mesa, Arizona. It was the first such event this year for Flake, who is up for re-election in 2018, as Republican lawmakers across the country have been confronted with angry voters in similar settings. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 9: Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) speaks with reporters after a vote at the U.S. Capitol, May 9, 2016, in Washington, DC. Senate Democrats defeated a procedural vote on an energy bill, which increases funding for the Department of Energy and Army Corps of Engineers. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 25 - Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., checks out Adaeze, a one and a half year old Cheetah, from the Leo Zoo, in Greenwich, Ct., along with Marcella Leone, from the Leo Zoo, middle, and Dr. Laurie Marker, Founder and Executive Director of Cheetah Conservation Fund, in Nambia, left, following a briefing on 'Combating Threats to the Cheetah, Africa's Most Endangered Big Cat, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Monday, April 25, 2016. The briefing, led by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Sen. Flake, comes as the Senate prepares to consider legislation on the 'destructive practice of wildlife poaching and trafficking.' Joining Adaeze on the table is Odie, a Australian Shepherd. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) talks to reporters as he arrives for a Senate health care vote on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) departs after a briefing by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the ongoing fight against the Islamic State, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) announces he will not seek re-election as he speaks on the floor of the Senate in this still image taken from video on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Senate TV via
U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) faces reporters after announcing he will not run for reelection on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, speaks during an interview on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017. Flake announced he won't seek re-election and then delivered a blistering attack on�Donald Trump�on the Senate floor, the second GOP senator to publicly excoriate the president on the�day the party wanted to put a proposed tax overhaul at the forefront. Photographer: Olivier Douliery/Bloomberg via Getty Images
UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 07: Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., left, and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., make their way to a Hurricane Harvey aid related vote in the Capitol on September 7, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 24: Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and his wife Cheryl Flake leave the U.S. Capitol as they are trailed by reporters, October 24, 2017 in Washington, DC. Flake announced that he will not be seeking re-election and he will leave the Senate after his term ends in 14 months. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 24: Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., is seen in the Capitol on the day he announced he will not be running for re-election on October 24, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 18: Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., talk as Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Full committee hearing on 'Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice' on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
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While Flake is skeptical about the feasibility of an independent run, the source says, he's open to the idea if he's provided a viable path to victory. Since Flake's announcement last week, a segment of GOP and independent-leaning donors also have been encouraging the option.

"Donors and like-minded Americans who care about a functioning democracy are realizing they're going to have to look to new options as party primaries continue to not only encourage but essentially guarantee the most extreme candidates," says Joel Searby, a strategist for The Centrist Project. "In the case of Jeff Flake, people from both the center-right and center-left realize that they can basically have whichever most extreme Republican emerges from the primary or, as an independent, a level-headed, principled Jeff Flake. When they start thinking in those terms, they begin to realize it's time for reconsidering the old ways."

A spokesperson for Flake did not respond to an inquiry.

An independent run by Flake would further complicate what's already expected to be a highly competitive race. While Ward has been in the contest for a year, White House aides are leery about her candidacy and have been looking for alternatives.

GOP Rep. Martha McSally is seriously weighing entering the contest, indicating her interest to members of the Arizona congressional delegation last week, and Jay Heiler, a member of the Arizona Board of Regents, has formed an exploratory committee.

Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema is already in the race and is not expected to face a difficult primary.

The current Senate includes two independent lawmakers without a formal affiliation to one of the major parties, though Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine both caucus with Democrats.

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Supporters stand in the crowd cheering as they wait for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to speak during a rally in Carson, California, U.S., May 17, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
A man covered in face paint waits to see U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders during a campaign event in Vallejo, California, May 18, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Supporters stand in the crowd cheering as they wait for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to speak during a rally in Carson, California, U.S., May 17, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
A supporter holds a sign as the crowd waits for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to speak during a rally in Carson, California, U.S., May 17, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
Women hold up signs and cheer as they wait for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to speak during a rally in Carson, California, U.S., May 17, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
UCLA graduate Miguel Rodriguez, 32, (R) and Joannie Small, 4, queue to listen to U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speak at a campaign rally at Casa del Mexicano in Los Angeles, California, U.S. June 4, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
A Bernie Sanders supporter texts before the U S. Democratic presidential candidate's campaign rally at Colton Hall in Monterey, California, U.S., May 31, 2016. REUTERS/Michael Fiala
Bernie Sanders supporter Drew Rainer dances prior to the U S. Democratic presidential candidate's campaign rally at Colton Hall in Monterey, California, U.S., May 31, 2016. REUTERS/Michael Fiala
An attendee reacts as Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders prepares to enter Kaiser Permanente Arena during a campaign rally in Santa Cruz, California May 31, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
An attendee holds a sign in support of Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders during a campaign rally in Santa Cruz, California, U.S., May 31, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
A woman holds a sign in support of Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders during a campaign rally in Santa Cruz, California, U.S., May 31, 2016. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Supporters cheer for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as he speaks at a campaign rally in Santa Barbara, California, U.S. May 28, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Supporters listen as U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in Santa Maria, California, U.S. May 28, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Supporters cheer for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as he speaks at a campaign rally in Santa Barbara, California, U.S. May 28, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Supporters wait for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to speak at a campaign rally in Santa Barbara, California, U.S. May 28, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders greets supporters after a campaign rally in Santa Maria, California, U.S. May 28, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders looks as supporters wish him and his wife a happy wedding anniversary at a campaign rally in Santa Barbara, California, U.S. May 28, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Tyler Morris holds up look-a-like puppet of Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is held up during campaign event in San Pedro, California, U.S. May 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian
A supporter holds a poster of Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a campaign event in San Pedro, California , U.S. May 27, 2016. REUTERS/Kevork Djansezian FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
Supporter Tina Boyd holds signs inside Johnie's Coffee Shop, which has been closed since 2000, during a one night only re-opening for a rally in favor of Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in Los Angeles, U.S., May 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Supporters of U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders cheer at a campaign event in Ventura, California, U.S. May 26, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn
Charles Parker of Desert Hot Springs shows off his large replica U S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders head while waiting in line to hear the senator speak at a campaign rally in Cathedral City, California, U.S., May 25, 2016. REUTERS/Alex Gallardo
Bradley Giles of Cathedral City waits to enter to hear U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speak at a campaign rally in Cathedral City, California, U.S., May 25, 2016. REUTERS/Alex Gallardo
Supporters cheer as U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders arrives to speak at a rally in Anaheim, California, United States, May 24, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Supporters wait in line to attend a morning rally for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in Anaheim, California, U.S., May 24, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Supporters listen to U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speak in Santa Monica, California, U.S., May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Supporters hold signs after U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' motorcade passed by in Santa Monica, California, U.S., May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Supporter Maria Antonio waits for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to speak in East Los Angeles, California, U.S. May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Supporter Mette Peluce, 11, waits for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to speak in East Los Angeles, California, U.S. May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Supporter Koelen Andrews, 34, waits for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to speak in East Los Angeles, California, U.S. May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Supporters wait for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to speak in East Los Angeles, California, U.S. May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
A supporter waits for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to speak in East Los Angeles, California, U.S. May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
People cheer at a campaign rally for U S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in Irvine, California, U.S. May 22, 2016. REUTERS/Alex Gallardo
Young female supports cheer as U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders steps up to the podium during a rally in Vista, California, United States May 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Supporters cheer as U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally in Vista, California, United States, May 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Joshua Zepeda of Escondido, takes off his shirt as he attends a rally for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in Vista, California, United States, May 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A supporter of U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wears a wig in San Juan, Puerto Rico, May 16, 2016. REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Supporters cheer for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Stockton, California, United States, May 10, 2016. REUTERS/Max Whittaker
From left, Myrna Leon, her daughter Bella Leon and her mother Frances Hernandez cheer for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Stockton, California, United States, May 10, 2016. REUTERS/Max Whittaker
Supporters cheer for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Stockton, California, United States, May 10, 2016. REUTERS/Max Whittaker
Supporters cheer and hold up banners before the arrival of U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a campaign rally in Sacramento, California United States May 9, 2016. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
Brydon Sullivan, 8, wearing a Bernie Sanders costume, waits for the U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Sanders to arrive at a campaign rally in Sacramento, California United States May 9, 2016. REUTERS/Fred Greaves
Supporters cheer as U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks at a campaign rally in New Brunswick, New Jersey, U.S., May 8, 2016. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders addresses the crowd during a campaign rally at Heritage Hall in Lexington, Kentucky, U.S. May 4, 2016. REUTERS/John Sommers II
Supporters of Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders cheer during his five state primary night rally in Huntington, West Virginia, U.S., April 26, 2016. REUTERS/Marcus Constantino
ATLANTIC CITY, NJ - MAY 9: Bernie Sanders supporters cheer during a rally with the Democratic presidential hopeful at Boardwalk Hall on May 9, 2016 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Sanders is campaigning in New Jersey ahead of the state's primary on June 7. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
PORTLAND, ME - MAY 5: Bernie Sanders supporters holding a 'We Love Bernie March' a day before the state Democratic Party Convention march down Congress St. in Portland Thursday, May 5, 2016. (Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 3: Campaign supporters show their support for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as he speaks to them during a campaign rally at the Big Four Lawn park May 3, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. Sanders is preparing for Kentucky's May 17th primary. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 3: Campaign supporters show their support for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as he speaks to them during a campaign rally at the Big Four Lawn park May 3, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. Sanders is preparing for Kentucky's May 17th primary. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
SOUTH BEND, IN - MAY 01: People cheer as Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks during a campaign rally at the Century Center on May 1, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Sanders continues to campaign leading up to the state of Indiana's primary day on Tuesday. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 29: People listen as Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks during a rally at the Indiana state Capitol on April 29, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Sanders addressed the rally of mostly union workers and their supporters protesting the Carrier Corp. plans to cut 1,400 manufacturing jobs in Indianapolis and move 2,100 jobs to Mexico. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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