Republican Senate hopeful Kelli Ward explained her decision to invite onto her bus tour a far-right commentator who promoted the infamous “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory as a necessary “hook” to garner attention for her campaign.
Mike Cernovich is known for his role peddling far-right conspiracy theories, including “Pizzagate,” which connected Hillary Clinton and her campaign chairman John Podesta to a supposed pedophilia ring in a Washington, DC, pizza restaurant. The incident came to a head in December 2016 when a man fired an AR-15 inside the restaurant, saying he was attempting to find and rescue child sex slaves he believed were being held there. No one was injured.
When pressed on Cernovich’s past statements in an interview with NBC News that was posted online Monday night, Ward said, “Attaching those things to me is ridiculous.”
“We need to have a hook to get you guys interested in seeing the bus tour, and so, you know, just having a great candidate isn’t always enough for the media, sadly. So you need someone to spin things up and you guys have bitten,” Ward added.
She continued, “We invited a lot of people on the bus tour who support building the wall, border security and the America First agenda. We’ve got national politicians and figures, we’ve got local that are coming as well. I don’t know why you guys are focusing on Cernovich.”
Ward’s comments come ahead of an Arizona Republican primary set for next Tuesday, where she will face off against former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Rep. Martha McSally.
Many Republican strategists believe Ward’s embrace of far-right elements would make her all but certain to lose to Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in November if Ward wins the GOP Senate primary.
Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, recently called President Donald Trump and urged him to endorse McSally, believing Ward would lose the race, one source familiar with the call has told CNN.
CNN’s Eric Bradner contributed to this report.