Republican Senate candidate Kelli Ward weathered a storm of outrage over the weekend after suggesting that the late senator John McCain announced he was ending medical treatment to damage her campaign.
"The Left is hateful, foul-mouthed, and easily misled," Ward wrote. "I do thank them (especially the out of staters) for increasing the reach of my page, though!"
She also included screenshots of negative comments, including people telling Ward to "rot in hell," calling her a "cretin," and saying that they hope she gets brain cancer, only for someone to tell her "how fucking horrible and stupid you are."
Ward repeated a two-word reply – "easily misled" – to several opponents on Facebook, including one person who told her, "Stop playing the victim."
One day earlier, one of Ward's campaign staffers, Jonathan Williams, had floated the notion on Facebook that McCain might have released the announcement on Friday, the same day as Ward's statewide bus tour, "to take media attention off her campaign."
Ward replied to him on Facebook, "I think they wanted to have a particular narrative that they hope is negative to me."
She later deleted the comment.
Ward is a former state senator from Lake Havasu City. A spokesperson for her campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It's hardly the first time that Ward has attacked McCain in crude terms. When Ward challenged McCain during the late senator's 2016 primary election, during the final days of the campaign she laced into McCain for his age.
In an interview with MSNBC two years ago, Ward said that McCain has "gotten weak, he's gotten old," referring to her experience as a physician.
McCain defeated her easily in the primary. Nevertheless, Ward has been campaigning for the Senate essentially without a break ever since. She pivoted from her defeat to challenge Arizona's other senator, Jeff Flake, who later declared that he would not run for re-election.
Last summer, when McCain announced that doctors had diagnosed him with a deadly form of brain cancer called glioblastoma, Ward again seized on his health. She insisted that McCain should step down and that Arizona Governor Doug Ducey should consider her as McCain's replacement.
A recent poll from local firm Data Orbital shows Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally opening up a lead over Ward among likely Republican primary voters, with 48 percent supporting McSally over Ward's 22 percent. Former sheriff Joe Arpaio trailed them both in the poll conducted last week, with 17.6 percent.
As it happens, the bus tour that Ward's team was concerned about being overshadowed by McCain has already attracted attention for the inclusion of right-wing Pizzagate conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich.
Ward has a history of fraternizing with fringe personalities like Cernovich. And in 2014, Ward hosted a local forum as a sounding board for constituent concerns about "chemtrails," although she says she doesn't believe in the conspiracy theory.
In her Facebook post on Sunday morning, Ward reiterated her condolences for McCain's family. Then she lambasted her critics.
She urged voters to "please take note of the trolling comments by people who buy into #FakeNews & political smears."
"I'm sure you'll see for yourself once this post goes live," Ward added.
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