There is no love lost between state Sen. Kelli Ward and Rep. Martha McSally, the two top Arizona Republicans vying to represent the party in November’s Senate election.
But their race has grown so contentious roughly a month before Republican voters pick their nominee that Ward, who’s challenging McSally from the right, is making the case that it would be “disingenuous” for her to support McSally should the sitting congresswoman win the nomination.
Arizona is one of the few states where Democrats believe they are in a position to flip a Senate seat this fall. Arizona narrowly backed President Donald Trump in 2016, but Democrats believe that the state’s demographics – as well as the enthusiasm on the left – could help deliver the Senate seat to Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the Democrat in the race.
Ward’s comments show just how divisive the primary has become and suggest it could be difficult for Republicans to unite behind a single candidate in the general election.
Ward told CNN in an interview on Wednesday that McSally “isn’t a conservative,” and when asked directly if she would support McSally’s candidacy, Ward dodged but said, “I want a conservative in that seat.”
“It would seem pretty disingenuous of me to be campaigning in a primary, stating that I am the one who has the principles, who shares the values of faith, family and freedom with the people of Arizona and then to hypocritically go in and say that my opponent is the be-all, end-all, and because she has an R behind her name we should get behind her,” Ward said.
Trump has loomed large in the race to replace the retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican who has become a fervent Trump critic. All three Republicans – Ward, McSally and controversial former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio – are running toward Trump, pledging to stand with the President if they are elected.
McSally, the more establishment candidate in the race, has been pushed to the right in the primary, most clearly shown earlier this year when she pulled her support for a moderate immigration bill to get behind the more conservative plan.
Ward has sought to seize on these moves, hoping that her rightward run and the fact that McSally broke with Trump during the 2016 election will entice the President to back her in the primary.
Ward declined to say point-blank whether she would get behind McSally. But pressed on the issue, she slammed McSally as a fake Republican and compared her critically to Sinema.
“People who are running have to actually be Republican. They need to be sharing the values that Arizona voters are fighting for. They can’t be a clone of Jeff Flake and John McCain, who have disanointed our state and our country for far too long, and Martha is cut from the same cloth,” Ward said.
A spokesperson for McSally’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Ward’s hostility toward McSally is not new but her campaign is turning up the heat on the congresswoman.
The race among McSally, Ward and Arpaio has remained fairly close. An NBC News/Marist Poll found in June that McSally, at 30%, held a statistically irrelevant 2-percentage-point lead over Ward, at 28%, among Republicans. Arpaio stood at 21% in the poll, with the same number undecided.
Ward told CNN she is not worried that Arpaio, who’s also challenging McSally from the right, is leeching support from her campaign.
“Joe takes votes from Martha and from me,” she said. “What is clear on its face is that conservatives are coalescing behind me.”