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McSally tells GOP colleagues she'll run for Arizona Senate

McSally tells GOP colleagues she'll run for Arizona Senate
© Greg Nash

Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) has told her House GOP colleagues that she plans to run in 2018 for the Arizona Senate seat left open by Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCongress raises pressure on Saudi Arabia Flake says he and his family got death threats 'from the right' Trump boosts McSally, bashes Sinema in Arizona MORE's (R-Ariz.) retirement.

McSally, whose House seat is a top target for Democrats, hasn’t said when she’ll officially announce her Senate bid, sources told The Arizona Republic, which first reported her discussions with other lawmakers. Her entrance into the race would give state Sen. Kelli Ward competition in the Republican primary.

McSally, a former Air Force pilot, would be one of the first major Republicans to jump into the race in the wake of Flake announcing he wouldn't run for reelection last month. Flake, who has been an outspoken critic of President Trump and said he no longer wanted to be “complicit,” was lagging in both primary and general election polls.

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The GOP primary is expected to become more crowded. Other Republicans who are still considering a run include former Rep. Matt SalmonMatthew (Matt) James SalmonArizona voters like Kyl but few think he'll stick around Former Sen. Jon Kyl to replace McCain in Senate Arizona governor faces pressure over McCain replacement MORE and some former Trump state campaign aides, including state Treasurer Jeff DeWit and former Arizona GOP chairman Robert Graham. Jay Heiler, a member of the Arizona Board of Regents, has formed an exploratory committee for the seat.

McSally’s decision to run for the Senate opens up her House seat, which is considered a toss-up. It’s a high priority for House Democrats who have targeted McSally since she was elected. Now that it’s an open seat, it’ll likely give Democrats a higher chance of winning, since they won't face McSally's incumbency and fundraising prowess.

Republicans feel better about their chances of holding the Senate seat with Flake’s departure. Establishment Republicans are looking for an alternative to Ward, who they believe wouldn’t fare well in a general election against Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who will likely be the Democratic nominee.

But Ward has already won the backing of former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who has declared war on the GOP establishment and anyone who doesn’t back the president. She has also shored up some support from others in conservative and pro-Trump circles.

Not all conservatives are in Ward’s corner, however, and some have already indicated that they won’t back McSally, either. The conservative Club for Growth PAC has said it will support Salmon if he decides to run.

--Scott Wong contributed reporting.