Kelli Ward, a physician and state senator in Arizona, says she might challenge Sen. John McCain in the state’s Republican primary next year.
In recent weeks, Ward has been busy meeting with national conservative groups that back challengers to Republican incumbents while trying to determine if she could raise enough money to mount a credible campaign.
In a Thursday interview with The Daily Caller, Ward argued that McCain, who is 78, would be vulnerable in a Republican primary. She suggested she would contrast herself with the longtime senator over his support for comprehensive immigration reform.
Here is a transcript of that conversation, lightly edited for clarity and length.
Should you jump into this race, why would John McCain be vulnerable?
Ward: Well, I think that people in Arizona, from what I can tell going around the state here over the last several weeks, are ready for a change. But not just change for the sake of change, they want positive change. They want real representation. They want two-way conversations between them and the person representing them.
Sometimes, I think when people are in office for a very long time, they kind of lose touch with the people that they represent. And for me, I want a government for and by the people and the only way to get that is to be one of the people and to be with the people. I think that’s what people are looking for, and I think that’s what I have proven, over the time that I have been in the Arizona State Senate, that I can offer.
Specifically, on what issues do you disagree with McCain?
Ward: Well the biggest thing is probably border security. I think that we should secure our border. I think that we should stress legal immigration. I’m not a fan of amnesty. So there’s that.
Four and a half, five years ago, we got, “build the dang fence” from Sen. McCain, but we still don’t have a fence.
So that’s one and I also think that he hasn’t been out there enough against Obamacare, in my opinion. As a physician, Obamacare is the reason why I ran for office. And I want somebody in Washington seriously fighting against the federal takeover of our healthcare system. I want a free-marketed approach to healthcare. Not socialized medicine.
Tell me a little bit more about your background.
Ward: I’m a family doctor, I’ve been in practice in Arizona for the past 16 years right after my residency that I did in Michigan. I love it. I’ve had a private practice with my mom for primary care. She’s a pediatrician, I’m a family’s physician. We worked together for those 10 years. I sold my practice to a community health center, and I got a lot of the community health perspective and the safety net perspective.
And then when I deferred to contemplate running for office, I transferred to working just in the emergency department in my community…rural Arizona. And so I’m still in the trenches now. I don’t work during the session. We’re a part-time legislature, but out of session I keep my medical mind sharp by working in the emergency department. And I get to see the good, the bad and the ugly of this healthcare system that is being thrust upon us. And I can tell you that there is a lot of bad and a lot of ugly. There is very little good.
It has been argued that if you and other conservative alternatives all run against McCain, that would just guarantee a McCain win. What’s your thought on that?
Ward: Of course I think that it needs to be a one-on-one race. I think that in order to be successful against such a huge political machine, with man-power and money, a single conservative alternative is what is needed if we really want change in Washington D.C.
For me, I’m a different kind of candidate. I am not a lifelong politician. I didn’t go into this to have a career in politics. I love being a physician. I love what I do. I love taking care of people. But I think people want more, I’ll say, ‘normal-ish’ people in office. So they want people who are like them.
And we’re not getting enough of that. I don’t think that Sen. McCain has ever run against a well-educated, conservative, grounded, constitution-loving, woman. And I think that people are ready for that kind of a candidate and that kind of a change.
McCain had a Republican primary opponent in 2010, and won that race. What makes you think this time could be different?
Ward: Well number one, he can obviously raise money, I’m not belittling that or diluting myself in any way to say that he can’t raise money. But he doesn’t have a presidential campaign war chest leftover at this point. And he utilized a lot of that against J.D. Hayworth, in that primary in order to secure that nomination.
I think that I am a much different candidate than J.D. He had different issues that he had to deal with. I have been warned by people across the state, ‘watch out, there’s dirty tricks coming, it’s going to be a big big race, it’s going to be a tough, grueling time if you decide to do this.’ I have a pretty thick skin and I think that I’m ready to face the dragon.
How likely do you think it is that you will run?
Ward: I don’t really have a percent-ometer or a run-ometer that’s going to tell me one way or another.
I really need to finish off this session and focus on concentrating on this legislative session. We’re right at the end. Things are really about to rev-up. I’ve got a lot of great bills that are out there to decrease the size of government, to increase accountability in our welfare system, to help our education systems and our healthcare system, to stimulate the economy and help drive jobs. So I’ve got a lot of things that I’m concentrating on trying to get through here in the last few days of our session. I’ve got that as my priority, along with my family.
And so once that’s over, I’ll see what I have to do to truly test these waters, to see if there are favorable, to see if there is a political path and a financial path that can converge into a win for me.