Only eight Republican senators are up for re-election next year, and just two—Nevada Sen. Dean Heller and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake—face immediate danger of losing their seats to Democratic opponents, thanks to the close results in last year’s presidential election in both states. But it’s not just Democrats that Heller and Flake have to fear: Recent surveys from GOP pollsters shows both men at risk of defeat in their respective primaries to challengers from the ultra-right fringe.
In Nevada, a JMC Analytics poll found Heller trailing perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian 39-31, an ugly result for a sitting senator facing a guy who has lost five high-profile elections and is best known for a $17 million bankruptcy. Meanwhile, in Arizona, JMC showed former state Sen. Kelli Ward obliterating Flake by a 47-21 margin, similar to a separate survey from HighGround Research just a few days earlier that likewise had Ward up 43-28. And Ward almost makes Tarkanian look good. She’s most notorious for once holding a government meeting to address “chemtrails,” the lunatic conspiracy theory that the harmless water-vapor contrails generated by airplanes are some sort of toxic mind-control chemicals.
If Ward or Tarkanian were to prevail, they’d make it even harder for Republicans to hold these already vulnerable seats, but these insurgent campaigns and their hard-line supporters seem entirely unconcerned about quaint notions of electability. So what’s driving this deep hostility toward these two Republican senators whose positions only rarely conflict with party orthodoxy? The answer is likely health care, immigration, and last but not least: Donald Trump.