Noting John McCain's "stunning disregard for women's health," Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, announced this week that her organization is endorsing Ann Kirkpatrick for U.S. Senate.
"It’s time that all Arizona women had someone like Ann in their corner, standing strong for reproductive freedom," Richards wrote in a statement. "Arizonans are tired of John McCain ... [who has] voted to block patients from care at Planned Parenthood six times and voted against nearly every single women's health initiative for over two decades."
This isn't the first time Planned Parenthood and its national political action campaign have endorsed Kirkpatrick — the latter has given her tens of thousands of dollars in past election cycles — but it holds added significance given the hyper-politicization of women's health care in the past few years and the potentially historic nature of Kirkpatrick's challenge to McCain, says Bryan Howard, CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.
"This is a critical opportunity, because she is such a unique candidate and challenger," Howard tells New Times. "During Ms. Kirkpatrick's time in Congress, and before that in the Arizona State Legislature, there's not been a more responsive elective official in terms of making sure that she heard our voice and understood the perspective and data we were bringing forward."
Howard calls Kirkpatrick "an independent thinker" and says he has worked with her for years in his capacity at PPAA. "She understands the importance of making health care accessible in rural districts because the right [of people to get good health] without access is hollow."
McCain, meanwhile, "has really just a 180-degree-different record," Howard says. "He supported the federal legislation that enables employers to exclude birth control from their health plans. He opposes the Lilly Ledbetter [Fair Pay] Act, which is intended to ensure women are not paid less to do the same job. And I know he's opposed to — and I believe he's voted against it multiple times – Roe v. Wade. He also, at the very least, believes that states that want to outlaw abortion should be able to, and he doesn't believe there is an inherent right that women have to make their own decisions with their health-care providers with dignity and in private."
With an empty Supreme Court seat and the seemingly relentless determination of many state and national politicians to defund or otherwise weaken Planned Parenthood, Howard says, it has become even more imperative for Planned Parenthood and its supporters to bolster candidates like Kirkpatrick, who share their values and beliefs.
"The recent Supreme Court ruling in Whole Women's Health aside, the fact of the matter is that we have state legislatures, including Arizona's, and voices in Congress, that are hellbent on reducing not just abortion but on reducing access to birth control, and reducing access to sexual-heath education in our schools. What people need is accurate information and access to quality services so that women and their families can decide what health care to access. The opponents do not believe that decision belongs in private hands. They believe they are better equipped to make the decision.
"We need a voice in the Senate who can stand against these voices, and we have to get back to the place where the Senate is a backstop against extremist ideology. This is a critical time for a voice and a mind like Ann Kirkpatrick," Howard argues.
Howard's glowing praise of Kirkpatrick comes during a week when both McCain — who is skipping the Republican National Convention in Cleveland — and Kirkpatrick are ramping up their political campaigns ahead of the November election.
On Monday, Kirkpatrick announced a $1.5 million "media blitz" in which she will air her first television commercials in major media markets across Arizona, and she released a new ad suggesting politicians like McCain shouldn't serve multiple terms: "Things have gotten so bad that I'm convinced we need term limits," she declares.
Also on Monday, McCain released an ad targeting Kirkpatrick's voting record. ("Ann Kirkpatrick works for Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, not Arizona families," the voiceover intones.) On Tuesday, he released an ad featuring Senator Jeff Flake. ("Water is Arizona's lifeblood. It's the key to our future. Arizona is fortunate to have people like John McCain right now who understand the issue. John McCain has been there every step of the way to make sure the government does its job," Flake says.)
Kirkpatrick and McCain have been locked in an increasingly contentious race. Both tout their experience as proof that they're the best candidate to represent struggling working-class families, to shape national security policy, and to overcome political gridlock in Washington, and both have been actively campaigning around the state.
For months, the two have been neck and neck in the polls, and while many dismissed Kirkpatrick's campaign early on, according to many political experts she now represents the best chance the Democrats have ever had to unseat McCain.
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"Mr. McCain has gone out of his way to say he's not beholden to any particular special interest, and he has happily adopted the title of maverick, but that's a bit of a disguise," says PPAA's Bryan Howard. "Because the reality is, if we're talking about families getting ahead in tough financial times, you can't be tying the hands of women or allowing employers to pay women less."
Watch the new ads from Ann Kirkpatrick and John McCain: