Editor’s Note: The author of this piece previously served on the Ward campaign as paid staff.
It’s been less than two months since former Arizona State Senator Kelli Ward lost to Senator John McCain in the Republican Primary for U.S. Senate by 11 points, but Ward has already announced that she has filed to run for the U.S. Senate one more time – this time against incumbent Senator Jeff Flake, who is up for reelection in 2018.
Ward suffered from a lack of fundraising and nationwide support amid other issues during this past cycle during which McCain spent millions to ensure her defeat. Overlooking these previous challenges, Ward is hoping to be successful this time.
“[Sen. Flake] doesn’t have the longevity of John McCain, he doesn’t have the reach of John McCain, he doesn’t have the war hero status of John McCain,” she said on her radio show ‘The Kelli Ward Connection’ after making her announcement.
Flake was a regular target of Ward’s on the campaign trail throughout the 2016 campaign.
Kelli Ward’s significant loss to John McCain on August 30th came after a difficult year that featured a lack of campaign structure, money, and support from many leading conservative organizations around the country.
One of the Ward campaign staffers spoke with the Arizona Capitol Times in an anonymous interview soon after the election to discuss her possible bid against Flake and cited several of these internal issues.
“She’s got to listen to the people who are knowledgable about a political campaign and how it’s run and how you win,” the source said.
The source doubted Ward’s ability to take down the Junior Senator due to these issues. Kelli’s husband, Michael Ward, responded to several of these issues in a Facebook post soon after the anonymous interview was published:
“It was the paid staff that ignored great volunteers, chased away interns, ignored early voting and did not follow thru on directives and direction. It was the paid staff,” he said. “That would choose to lie to Kelli than to fess up for their failures.”
He finished by saying that the paid staff, “made excuses while Kelli, Lorraine [Kelli’s mother] and key volunteers ran circles around them.”
Up to this point, none of the other staffers have publicly spoken out about the inner-problems that faced the campaign structure, but it is doubtful that many of the members from her former team will be joining her next political endeavor.
Other hurdles the Kelli Ward campaign will have to clear include the vast number of controversies and statements made by the state senator during her 2016 bid.
The campaign was constantly dogged with political misspeaks and controversial statements. Ward would regularly go off script during campaign speeches and media interviews only to find herself in the news the next day in the middle of a new controversy.
From her implications that John McCain would die in office if reelected to having to defend her use of a 2008 Mitt Romney television ad against McCain and Hillary Clinton in which she replaced Romney’s picture and approval message at the end with her own, most of these controversies were soon forgotten over time. However, similar issues can easily take down a campaign overnight.
Ward’s announcement comes after repeated claims on the campaign trail that she would not challenge Flake if faced with a loss against McCain. She regularly claimed that she would rather take a break and spend time with family than run again. The scenario of challenging Sen. Flake was a frequent topic of discussion during Kelli’s Q&A with supporters around the state with those same supporters pledging their support to her if she did decide to run.
According to her website, Ward’s ultimate decision stemmed from Flake’s refusal to support Donald Trump as the Republican Presidential nominee. This is despite the fact that Kelli Ward herself has refused to endorse John McCain as the Republican nominee for US Senate in the current general election matchup against Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick.
Flake has repeatedly stated glaring differences between he and the party nominee.
“I just know that I would like to vote for Donald Trump. It’s not comfortable to not support your nominee,” he told CNN earlier this month. “But given the positions he’s taken, and the tone and tenor of his campaign, I simply can’t.”
Flake has served a significantly more moderate term as Senator than he campaigned on in 2012 making him a prime target among conservatives in his home state.
From his role in the Gang of 8 “Amnesty” bill to his support for deactivating the Cuban embargo, Arizona conservatives say Flake has lived up to his name. It shouldn’t come as a shock that he is not a Trump supporter. Just recently, he received support from independent candidate for president, Evan McMullin, who defended Senator Flake’s stance on the Republican nominee.
Although Kelli Ward received nearly 40% of the vote on August 30th, those votes are definitely not guaranteed against Flake if a stronger, more viable candidate were to enter the Primary.
It was widely speculated that Congressmen Matt Salmon and David Schweikert were considering challenges to McCain last year, but opted out due to Ward’s candidacy. If the 2018 race were to include a more viable option like these, the road ahead would look even more difficult for the former one-and-a-half term state senator.
Other local officials rumored to run include Arizona State Treasurer and Trump campaign COO Jeff DeWit. DeWit received 1,063,472 votes in his election as Treasurer in 2014 in which he ran unopposed – winning more votes than any other candidate in state history. Kelli Ward is currently the only declared candidate in the race. Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09) is expected to run for her party nomination. Sinema trailed Flake by only 2 points in a hypothetical candidate poll conducted by Public Policy Polling in May.
Sen. Flake released a brief statement on Ward’s announcement:
“Shots at a seat in the Senate don’t come along very often, so we fully expect to have capable challengers, both in the primary and the general in 2018. We’ll be prepared.”
(Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore)