In this Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016 photo, former Arizona Republican state Sen. Kelli Ward, left, who is running against Sen. John McCain in the Arizona Republican primary, talks to a supporter of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at a campaign rally, in Phoenix. The Arizona primary election is Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Republican Arizona Senate contender Kelli Ward may be flailing in her bid to oust Sen. Jeff Flake next year.
According to Republicans with knowledge of Trumpite plans to oust Flake, efforts are now seriously afoot to recruit a more plausible contender into the race, with Ward having been deemed a “nut job” by some Flake critics.
To date, that perception has mostly existed among #nevertrump Republicans and groups like the Senate Leadership Fund, who mostly fear Ward ending up in the Senate rather than Flake remaining.
Earlier this year, Trump made positive noises about Ward. However, a first indicator that her levels of support in Trumpite circles might be slipping came with August’s Arizona rally at which Trump failed to boost her directly and she was given less than star treatment by the President. Rumors first then surfaced that Trumpworld might be shopping for a different opponent.
Ward lost her primary last year to Sen. John McCain, securing less than 40 percent of the vote.
While Flake is considered one of the two most vulnerable Republican Senators facing re-election in 2018, concerns are emerging that even with Flake unpopular among strongly Trump-favorable voters, Ward may not be able to close the deal. This is despite significant pledged investment by Steve Bannon and his political benefactors, the Mercer family.
Critics say Ward has thus far run a “strange” campaign that continues to be heavily focused on McCain, both arguing that with his cancer diagnosis, she should replace him in the Senate and sending out fundraising emails depicting McCain as her opponent and attacking him over Obamacare, while almost imperceptibly insinuating that Flake supports the Affordable Care Act (he doesn’t).
Concern also exists that Ward isn’t an obvious sell to socially conservative, and especially pro-life, voters. In 2012, Ward described her views on abortion in firmly pro-choice terms that echo standard Democratic talking points on the issue, saying “My preference would be that a patient and a doctor talk to each other about the risks, the benefits, what is the potential outcome for the mother should she choose to have a procedure like that, instead of having the government trying to make those decisions.” A Ward spokesperson later dismissed those comments saying she had made them when inexperienced in talking with the media. Some pro-life advocates nonetheless view that as another way of saying the comments represent her unvarnished and true views on the topic. In her race against McCain, the comments were the basis for pro-life endorsements of the incumbent senator.
In his own election, Trump convinced many conservatives that he was acceptably pro-life. However, that occurred primarily in the context of a general election fight against Hillary Clinton, one of the country’s most prominent supporters of legalized abortion. In addition, Ward’s history and pro-choice statements have received greater airing, thanks to her prior unsuccessful run against McCain, than Trump’s pro-partial birth abortion comments did.
It is likely that Flake’s campaign and supportive groups will highlight them again, should Ward remain as his main challenger.