You know things are heating up in Arizona when a) the mercury edges toward 120 degrees, or b) politicians start squawking about chemtrails.
Try c) both of the above.
Recently, Senator John McCain's campaign released a series of attack ads linking his main GOP primary rival, physician, and former state legislator Kelli Ward, to the chemtrails conspiracy theory.
Old news, you say? Well, yes: Back in 2014, Ward invited representatives from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to a town-hall meeting in Kingman so they could hear her constituents' concerns about chemtrails, a move that made her famous with her supporters but also earned her the sobriquet "Chemtrail Kelli."
Will she ever live it down? McCain and his people evidently hope not.
But wait! There's more!
Next, McCain's Democratic foe, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, sent the media a letter McCain had forwarded to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asking it to look into a constituent's concerns about — you guessed it! — chemtrails.
And now Ward's campaign is calling McCain a bully and contending that his behavior indicates he's "scared silly" he might lose the seat he has warmed in Washington for five terms.
Before we dive into the "he said, she said" stuff, here's a little refresher on one of the most popular and widely debunked conspiracy theories of all time.
Chemtrails are what some anti-government conspiracy theorists call the thin clouds left behind by airplanes. The clouds, they say, are part of a massive plan by the federal government (or aliens) to control the weather or spray the populace with mind-controlling poisons, depending on whom you ask.
If it sounds crazy, that's because it is: The clouds you see trailing behind airplanes are nothing more than a visible byproduct of a simple process you learned about in grade school: condensation. Just like you can see your breath on a cold day, when the warm air from a plane engine mixes with the cooler air in the atmosphere, it condenses into a visible fog.
Most of us who made it past, say, sixth grade, call the stuff contrails or vapor trails. Because, you know, science.
Cue the scary piano music and roll McCain's first ad!
Narrator [forebodingly]: "These are serious times. So why did Kelli Ward spend your tax dollars to entertain chemtrail conspiracy theories?"
What follows is a series of sound bites from the town-hall meeting and follow-up interviews, including one in which Ward says she's open to introducing legislation and "willing to continue this conversation."
Narrator: "Chemtrail Kelli — bad judgment, too dangerous for Arizona."
The second video continues the attack, digging up old recordings of local conspiracy-theory-loving, right-wing-radio-show-hosting Ward supporter Alex Jones.
Narrator: "Ward's bad judgment keeps dangerous company..."
Cue montage of Jones' statements about chemtrails: "A global plan to black out the sun…" "I know all of this, I know they're spraying my family…" "Only aliens would wanna do something like that!"
In the description of the video on YouTube, the McCain campaign notes that "[i]n March 2015, Ward said she was undecided on the 'chemtrails' conspiracy theory, saying, 'I don't really have any opinions about chemtrails one way or the other.'
"Now, even long after the event, Kelli is still willing to talk about 'chemtrails.' When asked in April 2016 about her taxpayer-funded chemtrail town hall, Kelli had this to say: 'I'd do it again. Of course I would do it again.'"
In an e-mail to New Times, Ward spokesman Stephen Sebastian writes, "Ward does not, and never has, believed in the so-called chemtrails theory."
So why did Ward hold the meeting in 2014?
"When incorrect information about environmental-quality issues is causing enough consternation to fill up a town-hall meeting, it is a senator’s job to connect concerned constituents with expert government officials to correct and clarify misconceptions," states Sebastian.
"Even Senator McCain did the same thing," he adds.
Which leads us to Part Deux.
Ann Kirkpatrick's campaign sent Talking Points Memo a 2015 letter from McCain to EPA officials, asking that the agency look into the chemtrails issue after one of his constituents told him her health problems likely stemmed from the poison being sprayed from airplanes.
Calling Kirkpatrick’s decision to share the letter "just sad," McCain spokeswoman Lorna Romero tells New Times via e-mail that "the Senate Office receives over 600,000 pieces of mail per year ranging from VA benefits to UFO sightings [and the] attempt to compare a constituent letter to hosting a publicly funded town hall regarding a debunked conspiracy theory shows Congresswoman Kirkpatrick’s desperation."
Desperation! Shall we hear from Kirkpatrick now? By all means, let's!
"This is just another example of how desperate John McCain has become to save his political career," states Kirkpatrick spokesman D.B. Mitchell.
More desperation! (And it's warranted: Recent polls show Kirkpatrick and McCain in a statistical dead heat.)
"Instead of focusing on important issues, McCain and his [campaign] are fighting over who used more taxpayer resources to investigate conspiracy theories," Mitchell adds.
While Mitchell declined to comment on whether Kirkpatrick believes Ward is a legitimate political threat, Ward's spokesman is happy to go there.
"Senator McCain is scared silly by his sinking poll numbers and Dr. Ward's appeal to people who actually work for a living and haven't spent their whole lives in politics," Stephens opines. "That's why he wants to distract Arizona Republicans from his broken, read-my-lips, 'Complete the danged fence' promise.'"
What's more, writes Stephens, "As Margaret Thatcher supposedly said, 'If they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.'"
For McCain's part, spokeswoman Romero writes, "As John McCain has always stated, he takes all of his challengers very seriously and looks forward to the campaign ahead."
Conspiracy theorists (ahem) may note that McCain is skipping the national GOP convention in Cleveland next month in order to focus on his campaign – but many pundits believe that excuse is a euphemism for his desire to keep his distance from presumptive nominee Donald Trump.
McCain, Ward, and their lesser-known rivals — businessman Alex Meluskey and radio host Clair Van Steenwyk — will face off in the August 30 primary.
Watch the latest attack ad on Ward that McCain's camp released this week (sadly, no chemtrails to be seen):
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