Nov. 7, 2012 – 12:08 a.m.

113th Congress: Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. (Senate)

Jeff Flake arrived in Washington more than a decade ago with his mind set on achieving one goal above all others: taking down earmarks.

Early on, he found little success. But congressional attitudes toward ending funding set-asides for projects in lawmakers’ districts has evolved considerably.

Increased scrutiny of spending paired with ballooning federal deficits prompted leaders who once rejected Flake’s ideas to embrace his stance, and both chambers embraced unofficial earmark moratoriums in the 112th Congress (2011-12). But such non-binding pledges by no means guarantee continued success in the Senate.

Called a “stalwart fiscal conservative” by National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas, Flake emphasized his focus on reining in government spending when he first announced his bid for the Senate. Flake earned a seat on the House Appropriations Committee in 2010 after being passed over for an open spot in 2008 following his call to replace the Republican leadership.

In two years on that panel, Flake frequently broke from party ranks to offer amendments to strip money from a wide range of programs funded through discretionary spending bills. House Budget Chairman and GOP vice presidential pick Paul D. Ryan endorsed Flake, calling him a “lonely leader” ahead of his time. “Jeff Flake was an economic fiscal conservative against all the pork before it was cool,” Ryan says.

At the beginning of his campaign, Flake told local media outlets he would focus on other issues critical to Arizonans, including border security, transportation and water policy. These are familiar topics for Flake, who spent time on both the Judiciary and Natural Resources committees in the House. He says he was stripped of his Judiciary assignment for supporting legislation that would have allowed millions of illegal immigrants to gain legal status.

Flake’s Senate campaign painted him as “the most conservative Congressman in Washington,” but he has lined up with Democrats on some hot-button issues, including supporting the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy barring openly gay service members, in addition to the 2006 immigration overhaul.

Despite legislative confrontations with colleagues, Flake is easygoing and personable, typically maintaining his cool with members exasperated by his proposals to block their earmarks.