Flake defeats Cardon in GOP Senate primary

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake defeated wealthy businessman Wil Cardon on Tuesday in an unexpectedly feisty Republican U.S. Senate primary race marked by accusations of hypocrisy, broken promises and flip-flopping.

The six-term congressman had 70 percent of the vote in early returns. He will face Democrat Richard Carmona, who was surgeon general under President George W. Bush, in the November general election to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Jon Kyl.

One or both major parties also had primary races in all nine of Arizona's U.S. House districts, including a two-incumbent rivalry between freshman Republican Reps. Ben Quayle and David Schweikert, who were pitted against each other by redistricting. Schweikert was leading 53 percent to 47 percent in early returns.

And Rep. Ron Barber, a former aide who was hand-picked to succeed Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head in a January 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, fended off a challenge by former state Rep. Matt Heinz in the Democratic primary.

Primary voters in Alaska, Oklahoma and Vermont also were deciding House races.

In Arizona, Democrats were hoping the surprisingly aggressive - and expensive - challenge from Cardon to Flake, who was widely seen as the favorite, will give them their best shot in years at taking one of the state's two Senate seats.

The push by Carmona comes as the GOP is fighting to pick up four more seats to wrest control of the chamber in advance of votes on key policy issues such as the possible repeal of President Barack Obama's health care law and changes to the tax code.

"This will be a great race because there are big differences between our philosophies," Flake said. "Richard Carmona is President Obama's hand-picked candidate for Arizona, and he shares the president's agenda. And I don't think it is the agenda Arizonans want."

Flake said he planned to focus on his support for repeal of Obama's health care plan and the economy.

Arizona hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since Dennis DeConcini won his third term in 1988, but Democrats are hoping the primary attacks on Flake have weakened his standing and his bank account.

"Jeff Flake has been a little wounded by the primary," said Jim Pederson, a former Democratic Party chairman who lost an expensive race to Kyl six years ago. "I think a lot of the issues that Wil brought up will kind of resonate with people. I think (the general election) is going to be very close."

Cardon said he believed Flake was "a better candidate because of the fights he had to go through."

Cardon spent $6 million of his own money trying to paint Flake as a Washington insider who reneged on past promises to limit his terms in office. Opponents pointed to Flake's little-known past as a Washington lobbyist for a uranium mine that was minority-owned by Iran. He also criticized Flake, saying he made a dramatic change on immigration, going from a supporter of comprehensive reform to backing policies that would first secure the border.

For his part, Cardon was accused of painting himself as tough on immigration, while a company he partly owned was fined for faulty paperwork in hiring workers with questionable legal status.

Cardon was widely seen as having begun to cede the race in the past month, turning positive in his campaign messages and ending months of expensive television ads.

"We had a good campaign," Cardon said. "Unfortunately we didn't get through to all the voters."

Election Results


Associated Press writer Paul Davenport contributed to this report. Follow Jeri Clausing on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jericlausing.

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