Arizona GOP congressman Jeff Flake announced today that he will try to fill the seat of retiring senator Jon Kyl in 2012. Flake, a tea partier before there were tea partiers, has already won the endorsement of the Club for Growth, and he'll be a strong candidate in the GOP primary. But he's no sure thing. For starters, on the all-important issue of immigration in Arizona, Flake has sponsored legislation that provides a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Dave Weigel writes:

In 2006 and 2007, Flake was a congressional supporter of comprehensive immigration reform. In 2007, he was part of a coalition that introduced the STRIVE Act. Like all immigration legislation, it went nowhere. But go back and read it -- it included visas for undocumented immigrations, and a pathway to legalization for anyone who met employment requirements and citizenship requirements (like command of English), and paid a $1,500 fine plus application fees. Perhaps more importantly, it included the DREAM Act of 2007 as part of the bill. That's the legislation for legalization-through-public service that became anathema to conservatives in 2010.

Just a couple weeks ago, Flake told the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin that he's still a supporter of "comprehensive" immigration reform, so it may be difficult for him to tack right on the issue (that is, if he's interested in tacking right).

Another issue that could hurt Flake in a GOP primary is his support for a carbon tax--something most Democrats ran away from because they viewed it as more unpopular than cap and trade:

The bill, co-sponsored by Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski of Illinois, would set a tax of $15 a ton of carbon dioxide produced in its first year in effect, with the tax rising to $100 a ton over three decades.

"The first axiom of economics is if you want less of something, you tax it," said Flake, a leading fiscal conservative, in an interview. "Obviously, we want less carbon, so we tax it."

Inglis noted that several prominent conservatives support a direct carbon tax: Arthur Laffer, a former economic adviser to President Ronald Reagan, and Gregory Mankiw, who advised President George W. Bush and is now a Harvard University economics professor. [...]

Inglis and Flake call their measure "tax neutral" because it would reduce payroll taxes by however much revenue the carbon tax raises, with employers and employees splitting the payroll tax cut equally.

As that McClatchy report makes clear, any good libertarian or conservative ought to support a consumption tax over a payroll tax if given the choice. But the economic merits of Flake's carbon tax bill could get lost in a heated primary.

Flake's chances in a GOP primary obviously will depend a lot on who else gets in the race. A big reason why John McCain won in 2010, despite his support for "comprehensive immigration reform" and cap and trade, was his primary opponent's incredible ineptitude. Flake should hope to be so lucky this time around.

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