Arizona’s Republican Senate primary is turning ugly fast – and some are expecting that President Donald Trump will further ignite it during a highly anticipated rally on Tuesday night in Phoenix.
The fireworks in the race – currently between Sen. Jeff Flake and former state Sen. Kelli Ward – went off just before Trump’s scheduled visit to the state.
In an ad from her campaign titled “Arizona Deserves Better,” Ward blasted Flake for being featured in a Hillary Clinton campaign ad slamming Trump and calling for him to withdraw from the presidential race in response to the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump boasted about groping women, that leaked in October.
Ward’s ad also appeared to tie Flake closely to President Barack Obama. As CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski pointed out, the photo Ward’s campaign used to make this assertion was of Flake shaking Obama’s hand in the Oval Office. They were alongside Arizona’s congressional delegation at a bill signing to honor the federal judge who was shot and killed in Tucson in 2011 during the attack on Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot but survived.
A spokesman for Ward told Kaczynski that the observation was “silly” and that “the ad speaks for itself.”
“The message of the ad is that Senator Flake is not the conservative he claims to be, having aligned himself with Hillary Clinton and President Obama before and now opposing President Trump,” the spokesman said. “The ad’s design, including our image highlighting Flake and Obama, conveys this visually, which is the goal of the piece.”
- Screenshot/Ward for Senate
Pro-Flake forces fired back with an ad on Tuesday, and they didn’t hold anything back.
The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC with close ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has announced his support for Flake, released an ad targeting “Chemtrail Kelli Ward.”
As part of a roughly $10,000 digital ad campaign, the ad ripped Ward for her “embarrassing behavior” and “dangerous ideas.” The narrator says it’s “no wonder” Republican voters rejected Ward last year when she challenged Sen. John McCain.
“Chemtrail Kelli’s got her head in the clouds with crazy ideas,” the narrator says, adding that after “losing big league to John McCain,” she called for him to step down last month after he disclosed he had brain cancer. Ward also called on Gov. Doug Ducey to appoint her, saying she should be “at the top of the list” for McCain’s seat.
“Chemtrail Kelli,” the narrator says. “Not conservative. Just crazy ideas.”
- Screenshot/Senate Leadership Fund
The “Chemtrail Kelli” attack was used against Ward during her primary campaign against McCain, which she lost by roughly 11 points.
In 2014, when she was a state senator, Ward organized a town-hall meeting to discuss the “chemtrail” theory. Taxpayer-paid state environmental staffers participated in the meeting, The Arizona Republic reported.
The chemtrail theory is one of the oldest anti-government conspiracies in circulation. It speculates that the visible streaks that come from airplanes are dangerous chemicals the government is attempting to spray over citizens, either to poison them or to change the weather for nefarious purposes.
“We’re not willing to throw this Senate seat away to Democrats by nominating a fringe candidate like Kelli Ward,” Steven Law, the Senate Leadership Fund’s president and McConnell’s former chief of staff, told Politico.
The outlet reported that those close to the group said the blistering Ward ad was part of a broader offensive to show that any Trump-led pushes to oust GOP incumbents would be met with force.
Perhaps no sitting Republican politician has been the focus of Trump’s ire more than Flake, who last month said in his book, “Conscience of a Conservative,” that his party was in “denial” about Trump, describing an executive branch “in chaos” and a president who has “seeming affection for strongmen and authoritarians.”
Last week, Trump tweeted his support for Ward’s campaign while blasting Flake.
“Great to see that Dr. Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate,” Trump wrote. “He’s toxic!”
Trump has previously promised to spend as much as $10 million to oust Flake. One of Trump’s top donors, the billionaire hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, has donated $300,000 to a pro-Ward super PAC, Politico reported.
And while much of what Trump plans to discuss during his Tuesday rally remains under wraps, the widespread consensus is that he will take no issue with further lambasting Flake.
Watch Ward’s ad:
And watch the Senate Leadership Fund ad: