Senate

EXCLUSIVE: Trump allies rally around Sen. Flake's primary challenger

Key figures from a major pro-Trump group are joining former Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward's (R) primary campaign against Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) - the latest sign that President Trump's allies are gearing up for a serious push to oust the incumbent.

Eric Beach, the founder and co-chair of Great America PAC, and Brent Lowder, the group's executive director, will join Ward's campaign, according to a release obtained by The Hill.

"Eric and Brent are highly accomplished political operatives with strong track records of success," Ward says in a statement. "They played an important role in the election of President Trump and are now committed to helping me to send Jeff Flake into retirement next year. We are excited to have them join the team and know they will have an immediate positive impact on our campaign."

That news comes as New York hedge fund billionaire and conservative donor Robert Mercer, a Trump supporter whose family is close with White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, gave $300,000 this week to an outside group supporting Ward's efforts.

It's a sign that pro-Trump forces are ramping up their efforts to take down Flake, who has emerged as one of the president's most vocal critics on Capitol Hill.

Flake has been promoting his new book, "Conscience of a Conservative," which argues that Republicans should have done more to stand up to Trump and that it's time to reclaim conservatism from him.

Trump has not backed a candidate in the Arizona race, but the White House is keeping close tabs on the Republican primary there. Ward has visited the White House, as have two other potential pro-Trump candidates from Arizona.

"We'll see how it plays out," a White House official told The Hill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the National Republican Senatorial Committee will vigorously defend incumbents up for reelection, and many strategists are doubtful the White House will meddle in the primary.

But McConnell and Trump's relationship has soured this week. McConnell has expressed frustration with the White House's "artificial deadlines" for moving legislation, and the president and his allies are fuming at the majority leader over the GOP's failure to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

"I don't know why McConnell came out attacking the president and pointing fingers and saying expectations are too high," Ward told The Hill in an interview earlier in the day.

"The American people have high expectations because Republicans told voters if they gave us the House and Senate and White House we could accomplish anything. Now instead of checking those off, we're hearing excuses. Well, the era of excuses is over. ... If McConnell wants to keep his leadership role, he should be focused on getting Trump's America first agenda through Congress."

Flake, meanwhile, came to McConnell's defense.

The Great America PAC acted as a pro-Trump super PAC during the presidential race and claims to have raised some $30 million in support of his candidacy.

It is now a nonprofit called the Great America Alliance and includes former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) as advisers. The group recently added Tomi Lahren, a pro-Trump conservative activist, as a spokeswoman.

"Senator Jeff Flake has continually failed Arizona and is more interested in selling his new book by attacking the President than actually serving his constituents and getting things done," Beach said in a statement. "Arizona deserves far better from their Senator."

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