Sen. John McCain’s former primary challenger didn’t wait long to say that he should step down from office following this week’s devastating news about his health. One day after McCain’s brain cancer diagnosis was revealed, Kelli Ward, who ran against McCain last year, was already talking about the possibility of taking over his Senate seat. “I hope Sen. McCain is going to look long and hard at this, that his family and his advisers are going to look at this, and they’re going to advise him to step away as quickly as possible, so that the business of the country and the business of Arizona being represented at the federal level can move forward,” Ward said during an interview on Thursday.
Ward, a physician and former state senator who is now running against Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, said that even though “as a Christian, I know there can always be miracles” the “likelihood that John McCain is going to be able to come back to the Senate and be at full force for the people of our state and the people of the United States is low.” She then mentioned that if McCain does step aside, Arizona’s governor would have to appoint someone to fill the seat until the 2018 election. When she was asked whether her name should be considered for that position, Ward didn’t hesitate: “Well, you know, I certainly hope so. Because, you know, I have a proven track record from years in the state Senate of being extremely effective and of listening to the voice of the people that I represent.”
Lest you think this was an unplanned statement that she later regretted, Ward posted a statement on her website noting that McCain “owes it to the people of Arizona to step aside” when he can no longer perform his duties at the Senate. “The medical reality of his diagnosis is grim,” Ward wrote. “The Senate has complicated and difficult problems to deal with and Arizona deserves to be represented by someone who can focus on those challenges.”
McCain has given no indication that he’s ready to step down from office, even tweeting recently that he’ll be “back soon.”
Many were taken aback by Ward’s comments so soon after McCain’s diagnosis was made public, including her primary opponent. “John McCain is a fighter and an American hero. I fully expect to see him back in the Senate soon,” Flake said. “I’m dumbstruck by Kelli Ward’s comments.” Twitter users were quick to criticize Ward for what was often seen as political opportunism at a time of personal tragedy. “Leave it to Kelli Ward to see Sen. John McCain’s brain tumor as an opportunity for personal advancement,” wrote Laurie Roberts at the Arizona Republic.
Despite the widespread criticism, Ward didn’t back off and continued to push the message during another radio interview on Friday. Ward insisted that if McCain is debilitated then “of course he should step aside.” The radio hosts didn’t hesitate to tell Ward exactly what they thought with one calling the physician a “vulture” who appears to be “dancing” on McCain’s grave. “I got to tell you, Dr. Ward. Have you no shame? I mean, I think this is low class. I think you’re kicking the man when he’s down, the week he’s diagnosed with brain cancer, with really what I believe is a despicable comment,” one of the hosts said. Ward pushed back against the characterization of what she was trying to say, insisting the radio hosts were putting words in her mouth.
In another interview she said her comments show how she’s a straight shooter: “whenever I’m asked a question, I don’t know, I give an answer. I guess unlike most politicians who would just skirt around the issue I take things directly—and I’m going to continue to do so.”
This isn’t the first time Ward has received national attention for her comments on McCain’s health. In an interview with Politico last year, Ward said McCain was too old to be senator and would likely die on the job.
McCain’s office has not commented on Ward’s statements as the senator has stayed out of the spotlight since his diagnosis was announced. The senator’s daughter, Meghan McCain, wrote on Twitter Saturday that she went on a hike with her father.