Former state senator Kelli Ward continues to draw the endorsement of influential Republican figures in her race for the U.S. Senate.
Ward appeared last week in Scottsdale Thursday with former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka, and again on Friday in Prescott for her “Make America Safe Again” rally, advocating for Arizona residents’ Second Amendment rights and emphasizing her focus on America’s national security.
Gorka is the former chair of Marine Corps University’s school of Military Theory, and is considered to be an authority on topics of warfare. Gorka wasted little time in taking aim at Sen. John McCain, who has made known his distaste for Trump’s brand of politics.
“John McCain is not a Republican,” Gorka said. “The man promises that he’s going to get our healthcare back, and then breaks his promise to the nation. Going up against that man tells you everything you need to know about (Ward).”
In a state that has traditionally leaned toward the right, Ward is challenging traditional conservatives under Trump’s rallying cry of “drain the swamp.” To Trump supporters such as Ward, the swamp extends to the offices of McCain and Sen. Jeff Flake. Flake will abdicate his senate seat this year.
The publication of Flake’s “Conscience of a Conservative” last year aroused the ire of avid Trump supporters, including Ward. The book is a stark criticism of what he deemed the Trump administration’s populist tactics in pursuit of the presidency.
In the book, Flake reminisced about a time when conservatives would think about ideas and enjoy good-spirited, consequential debates.
“It seems that time is gone,” Flake wrote, “Replaced by a race to the bottom to see who can be meaner and madder and crazier.”
Ward has had strong criticism for Flake and McCain as well, saying the senators have long been weak on topics of national security and border issues. Trump endorsed Ward for the U.S. Senate in a tweet last August, and she has been gaining momentum.
As of Jan. 1, Ward’s campaign raised more than $1.5 million, led only by Democratic challenger Krysten Sinema, who raised more $4.9 million. Ward has endorsements from from U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, U.S. Rep. Steve King, former White House Chief of Staff Steve Bannon and radio hosts Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin. A super PAC supporting Ward’s candidacy, KelliPAC, received a $500,000 donation from Beal Bank founder Andrew Beal.
“This is a woman who has common sense,” Gorka said on Thursday. “This is a woman who gets things done, just like someone else I know.”
Ward will face other conservative candidates who have received Trump’s apparent blessing. Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Iraq veteran Christian Diegel, health insurance representative Michelle Griffin, Trump campaign activist Nicholas Tutora and Arizona congresswoman Martha McSally could all appear on the ballot in Arizona’s primary elections Aug. 28.
As of Nov. 15, Ward was seen as “favorable” by about 60 percent of Arizona Republicans, and maintained a significant lead over McSally in the state’s rural areas, according to polling company Predictive Insights. In Maricopa County, however, Ward was viewed with much less enthusiasm.
According to the report, Maricopa County is expected to have almost two-thirds of the 2018 general election vote. About 34 percent of Maricopa poll participants saw Ward as “favorable,” while 47 percent saw Ward as “unfavorable.”