Meet the Woman Gunning to Take Down Senator John McCain

When John McCain was first elected to the US Senate, the original Mario Brothers had just been released. And the last time someone challenged John McCain in an election, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee weren’t even in the Senate. Kelli Ward is trying to change that.

Ward, an Arizona physician and mother of three, is challenging Senator McCain for the Republican nomination. It’s an interesting position for Ward, considering that she never really planned to run for office.

“I really wasn’t politically engaged [at all] until after September 11th, 2001,” she told OUTSET’s Josh De Ford in an interview. But she said that day was the “turning point” in her life politically. “I began to really educate myself, to watch different news shows, to read different books, and try to figure out what was going on in our state and in our world. I was really wondering ‘Why doesn’t somebody do something?’, and finally I said, ‘Why don’t I do something?’ That’s what drove me to the position of running for office.”

In 2012, Ward did something. She ran for a seat in the Arizona State Senate, winning a three-way Republican primary with 42.2% of the vote. She won the general election handily with 71.2% of the vote over her Democratic rival. She won re-election in 2014 unopposed, but on July 15, 2015, she announced that she was challenging Senator John McCain in the Republican Senate primary. She subsequently resigned from her state senate in December 2015 to focus on her campaign.

When I spoke to Ward at CPAC last month, she told me that she’s enjoyed watching the way people react when they hear she’s running against McCain. “I’ve gotten spontaneous hugs, some people start jumping up and down in glee, some people just pump my hand up and down – it’s been amazing.”

Ward said her favorite part of the campaign has been meeting people.  “I love people,” she said with a smile. “There’s a lot of people in politics who don’t like people. I didn’t realize that was a question you had to ask people who worked for you –  ‘Do you like people or do you not?’, she laughed. “I’m a people person. As a family doctor, I’ve taken care of all different ages, races, sexes – mostly under duress but sometimes when they just come in for a regular checkout. And I love traveling the state, seeing the diversity across our beautiful countryside, and giving people hope that we can actually fix Washington and get back to the representative republic that we all would love to see and that we would all benefit from.”

Senator McCain has a long history of service in the Senate, so I asked Ward why she felt he needed to be replaced.

“Unfortunately, 30 years in Washington changes a person,” she said. “And John McCain’s been there 30 years. He’s a big government, big spending Republican. He voted for tax hikes. He voted for bailouts. He voted for massive new spending. He voted 15 times to increase the debt ceiling. He voted for liberal judges. He voted for amnesty. He mocked the conservatives who wanted to stop Obamacare, calling Cruz and Lee and Paul ‘wackobirds.’ All of those things have just happened in the last few years, and people in Arizona and people across the country are tired of those conservative betrayals, and are really ready to make a change.”

“We all know we can’t change DC unless we change the people we send there,” Ward continued. “People are looking for a qualified, capable, competent person who can take the reins and hit the ground running in Washington. When they meet me, they see that that is what I am. I think that my life experience as a military wife, and as a mom, and as a family doctor – along with my political experience – has made me very effective in the Arizona State Senate.”

“I think that’s what people are longing for – someone who doesn’t want a political career, but has the skills and the talents and the ability to go to Washington and get a job done, start on some policies moving forward, and then to pass the torch on to the next generation. That’s what I think we’ve seen happen over the last several decades is that people forgot to pass the torch to the next generation. The people who have the skills and the energy and the stamina to take the country in the right direction. And now we’re at a point of stagnation because we’ve got too many people who have been there for way too long.”

Ward said her “number one” priority when she gets to Washington will be securing the border and stopping illegal immigration. “We are seeing the toll that our porous border and illegal immigration has had on every aspect of our society – from healthcare, to education, to public safety, to corrections, and to the economy,” Ward said. “It simply has got to stop, and it has to start at the Federal level.”

As a physician, Ward has a unique perspective on Obamacare and healthcare reform. “I understand that [Obamacare] is the biggest takeover of healthcare, liberty, and freedom that we will ever see in our lifetime,” Ward said. “I want patients to be able to get the healthcare that they want and the healthcare that they need, rather than having to settle for the healthcare that the government is willing to give them.”

Finally, Ward said she wants to tackle the national debt. “John McCain has been [in Washington] for $17.5 trillion of the over $19 trillion dollars [of debt] that is currently in place,” Ward noted. “I’m in favor of something like the Penny Plan, where we cut fraud waste and abuse out of government, we get rid of the agencies we don’t need, and then we expect the ones that are left to cut their budget by one penny out of every dollar that they have. As long as we keep our spending under control, we tighten our belt, we’ll be able to balance our budget in a relatively short amount of time.”

On the issue of the Supreme Court vacancy, I asked Ward if she believed, as Senator McCain said several years ago, that President Obama’s nominee deserves a hearing. “No, I don’t,” she quickly responded. “The President can nominate someone, but the Senate’s job is to advise, and either  consent or not consent. And I think the next President should make that choice. Unfortunately, I don’t trust the people who are there right now to have the backbone necessary to stop that process if they let it begin. W cannot afford to have another [Sonia] Sotomayor or [Elena] Kagan on the court. We need another strict constructionist who knows, like Justice Scalia said, that the Constitution ‘says what it says, and it doesn’t say what it doesn’t say.’ I don’t think Barack Obama will ever give us a nominee like that.”

In closing, I addressed a common criticism of outsider candidates – namely, that even outsiders turn into insiders once they get to Washington. I asked Ward how she would be different to other outsiders who have tried to change Washington and failed.

“Well, I think people should plan not to stay there for so long,” she replied. “Washington D.C. actually is kind of a dark and lonely place. Somebody has be willing to come in and be the light. But I don’t know that you can stay as the light for long, long periods of time there. Your light starts to dwindle down and that’s why you have to pass the torch on to the next generation.”

“I think we have to elect a different kind of person to represent us,” she continued. “People who don’t want a political career. People who don’t go to Washington in order to come back to Washington. I’ve got a career. I’m a wife and a mother and a doctor. That’s huge career with lots of accomplishments. I do think I have skills and talents and abilities that I have been blessed with that I could share with our country by serving in the US Senate for a short period of time. I believe in term limits, and I have stated on the campaign trail that I would not stay longer than 12 years. That’s two terms, and that’s more than enough time for anyone. And I know that the next generation is training and getting ready to take that torch from me and move the ball forward in the direction that we want it to go.”

“You have to have people who can withstand pressure  when they’re taken into the little room and talked to by leadership and the power brokers, who utilize things like ‘You’re not going to get a good office’ or ‘You’re not going to be on a good committee’ and ‘You’re not going to get anything done unless you fall in line,’ and of course, ‘we’re not going to help you with money to get back to Washington unless you fall in line.'”

“I think you have to have people who can withstand that [pressure] because they base their life and success on different things.   I base mine on my faith, my family, and my profession. And while I think this is a very important election – if I didn’t I wouldn’t be putting myself and my family through this process – ultimately it is just an election, and there are a lot of things that are more important than winning or losing an election.”