Flake gets early 2018 primary challenger

Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakePoll: McSally holds 14-point lead in Arizona GOP Senate primary GOP senators introduce bill to prevent family separations at border McCain, Coons: Trump should withdraw controversial refugee nominee MORE (R-Ariz.), a frequent critic of Republican presidential nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpConservatives express concern over House GOP immigration bill Poll: McSally holds 14-point lead in Arizona GOP Senate primary Trump defends Nielsen amid criticism over family separations MORE, is getting an early GOP primary challenger ahead of his 2018 reelection bid.  

Former state Sen. Kelli Ward announced on her weekly radio show Thursday that she would challenge the Arizona senator, saying she is "going to take on the establishment once again." 
"We are going to need people ... who are willing to stand up for the people they represent. Who are fighting for small government, for freedom, for liberty. That aren't there to reward cronies," said Ward, who was defeated by Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Defense: States pull National Guard troops over family separation policy | Senators question pick for Afghan commander | US leaves UN Human Rights Council 13 GOP senators ask administration to pause separation of immigrant families McCain, Coons: Trump should withdraw controversial refugee nominee MORE (R-Ariz.) in a primary this year.  
Ward, an unabashed supporter of Trump, added that listeners should send her potential nicknames for Flake over Twitter, noting she liked "Flake the Snake."
She noted that she's starting early because "regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, we are going to need people in Washington, D.C., who are willing to fight the establishment." 
Ward was defeated handily by McCain, losing by roughly 12 percentage points in a late August primary. She argued during the Wednesday show that Flake would be easier to pick off in a midterm election. 
"Sen. Flake might be semi-well liked, but he doesn't have the longevity of John McCain. He doesn't have the reach of John McCain. He doesn't have the war hero status of John McCain," she said. 
Flake said Thursday he expected a challenger, adding "we'll be prepared." 
"Shots at a seat in the Senate don't come along very often, so we fully expect capable challengers next cycle, both in the primary and the general," he said in a statement. 

An Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News poll released in mid-September showed Flake as viewed favorably by nearly 35 percent of Arizona voters but viewed unfavorably by nearly 36 percent. 

Flake has spent months criticizing Trump and refused to support his party's nominee, warning that Trump's controversial policies and comments could undercut the Republican Party for years, even if he loses the presidential election next month.
Flake joined the Senate in 2013 after spending roughly 12 years in the House. Flake is one of eight GOP senators up for reelection in 2018.
Ward had more than $57,500 left in the bank at the end of September, according to the Federal Election Commission. Flake — who did not have to spend money on an election this year — had more than $594,200. 

- Updated at 4:42 p.m.