Arizona state senator has many advantages but faces Rep. Martha McSally, Sheriff Joe Arpaio in what's likely to be a combative primary

by Jim Stinson | Updated 25 Feb 2018 at 9:50 AM

When Sen. Jeff Flake dropped out of his re-election campaign in Arizona, some political forecasters said the U.S. Senate race in the desert southwest state was a toss-up.

But Republicans are leading Democrats in new voter registrations by a whopping margin of 55-to-1, according to former state Sen. Kelli Ward, a Republican hoping to replace Flake. And the issues favor the Republicans, she said.

“People want the wall,” Ward said when asked by LifeZette about Arizona voter preferences while she was attending the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) outside Washington, D.C., on Friday. “It’s very, very positive for us.”

Ward said her priorities are curbing illegal immigration and focusing on economic growth and military-and-veteran issues. She was at CPAC to do a slew of media interviews as she seeks to replace Flake as the Republican senator from Arizona.

The Arizona contest is among the most important in the nation in the 2018 midterm elections because Republicans hold a slight 51-49 majority in the Senate. That means holding the Arizona seat now occupied by the retiring Flake is a top priority for Republican strategists.

Ward jumped into the U.S. Senate primary in early 2017, and attracted Ed Rollins, President Ronald Reagan’s former White House political adviser and 1984 re-election campaign manager, as an adviser. Pressure against Flake rose as he criticized Trump often.

On Oct. 24, 2017, Flake — perhaps the top Never-Trump Republican in the Senate — dropped out of the race. Flake’s frequent posturing against Trump cost him badly in the polls, and Ward was poised to drub Flake in the still-distant August 28 Republican primary.

But it was still surprising. Flake was a first-term senator elected in 2012. He had been in the House from 2001 to 2013. Ward looked like a sure bet at that point to win the GOP nomination for the Senate. But two new challengers jumped in, and the primary race was anything but over.

Second-term Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) entered the primary race after Flake dropped out, and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio also announced as a Republican. Arpaio was pardoned by President Donald Trump in late August for a recent conviction on criminal contempt for his decision to disregard a 2011 court order.

Ward told LifeZette she is the best choice for Republican voters because she is focused on a wide variety of issues. And Ward said she’s the best candidate because she is not an establishment Republican.

“What we see, in poll after poll after poll, is that [the] Republican electorate is simply fed up with the D.C. insider class,” said Ward, an osteopathic doctor. “About 60 to 65 percent of them don’t want that.”

Ward has a considerable list of endorsements, including former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, and Laura Ingraham, host of the Fox News program “The Ingraham Angle” and LifeZette co-founder. Great America PAC, which Rollins runs, also endorsed Ward. The PAC raised $30 million to support Trump in 2016.

Ward challenged Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2016 Republican primary, and came within 12 points of him in the Republican primary.

Republicans likely will have to battle Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who raised $1.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2017, in the general election.

With control of the Senate at stake in 2018, the Arizona Senate election could decide the fate of legislation for the next two years.