In it, but not of it. TPM DC

GOPer Flake Takes The High Road On Possible Giffords Senate Run

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Just a few weeks ago, a Giffords' Senate bid seemed unfathomable, but the wounded congresswoman, shot in the head at close range in Tucson Jan. 8, is making such startlingly dramatic progress that political chatter is starting to focus on a potential 2012 Senate campaign -- even if right now it seems plausible but unrealistic.

Giffords' closest friends in Congress, including Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), as well as Reps. Adam Smith (WA) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL), are hosting a Washington fundraiser for her re-election committee March 15, which is only spurring more speculation of a Senate run.

And Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) told The Hill newspaper this week that there is a "distinct possibility" Giffords will run "given her progress."

"I think she would be formidable," he added.

Earlier this week, Flake, a leading fiscal conservative and earmark foe, announced he would run to replace Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who said he would not seek re-election next year.

Flake took a break from offering amendments aimed at cutting more spending from the House Republicans continuing resolution, (which already would slash $61 billion from the 2011 budget outlays) to talk to TPM about Giffords and his Senate run.

Flake was ebullient about his nascent campaign. The state has long elected Republicans to the Senate; Kyl in 1995 and McCain in 1987. And Flake, 49, with his fiscal conservative bona fides, good looks and upbeat attitude, would be formidable against other GOP primary contenders.

But Giffords, with her national name recognition and captivating personal story, could throw a wrench into his plans with her own Senate bid.

While such a turn-of-events remains to be seen, Flake's campaign is rolling full steam ahead. He has quickly attracted the support of the conservative Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, the Tea-Party-aligned group run by former Rep. Dick Armey (R-TX).

Both groups are backing Flake despite his support for repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell and and his support for comprehensive immigration reform in 2006 and 2007, which included visas for undocumented immigrants and a pathway to legalization for anyone who met employment and citizenship requirements and paid a $1,500 fine plus application fees. The immigration measure went nowhere when conservative Republicans and some Democrats banded together to kill it.

Flake, however, does not view either vote as a liability in his Senate race -- and he doesn't try any verbal gymnastics to try to weasel out of them.

"In Arizona, politicians are kind of expected to have an independent streak," he said.

On DADT, Flake said he believed Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others who said changing the law would actually help military operations because it would discontinue a practice of having people lie about their identities.

On immigration, he said he took a difficult position that would provide a comprehensive solution to the country's immigration problems because he wanted government to tackle the thorny issue.

"No one trusts the federal government to implement anything," he said. "I thought if we have a legal framework, we could address some of the other elements with the border."

"Half of the people here illegally did not sneak across the border...and we need to address that too," he said.