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Ghosts of elections past appeared in Arizona, as Sen. John McCain’s 2016 challenger urged him to resign because of his brain cancer diagnosis on Friday. She also took the opportunity to put her name forward as his replacement.
While speaking to an Indiana radio station, Dr. Kelli Ward — who failed to beat McCain in the Republican primary in 2016 and is running against Republican Sen. Jeff Flake in 2018 — said she'd be a strong choice to replace the senator.
“I hope that Sen. McCain is going to look long and hard at this, that his family and advisers are going to look at this and they’re going to advise him to step away as quickly as possible,” she said on WOWO 1190 AM. “So that the business of the country and the business of Arizona being represented at the federal level can move forward.”
McCain, 80, revealed on Wednesday that doctors had diagnosed him with a primary glioblastoma, a type of brain tumor.
Ward shared on Twitter Wednesday — immediately after McCain’s office announced the senator was suffering from an aggressive form of brain cancer — that she was “Wishing Mr. McCain comfort and peace.” Two days later, she went on the Indiana radio show to announce that his absence from the Senate “can’t stand.”
Later on Friday, Ward returned to the airwaves and doubled down on her remarks — albeit with a caveat.
"I said should he become debilitated he should consider resigning," she told KTAR News 92.3’s Mac & Gaydos, an Arizona radio show that called her comments "low class."
Ward said in the initial interview that she hoped McCain would "step away as quickly as possible."
During the Arizona program, Ward went on to reiterate her belief in a tumultuous interview that McCain should resign, defended her comments and said she had "a big heart." She also thanked the radio hosts for the controversy because it increased her name recognition.
"I thank you guys in the media for making it about me," she said on KTAR. "You’re increasing my name ID and spreading the word."
In a statement shared with NBC News on Friday, Ward said she was praying for McCain and his family and called the diagnosis "grim."
"Senator McCain has an aggressive brain cancer that is both devastating and debilitating," Ward said. "When the time comes that Senator McCain can no longer perform his duties in the Senate at full capacity, he owes it to the people of Arizona to step aside."
Ward then cited her experience as a physician.
"Senator McCain and his family have a lot of hard decisions to make," she added in the statement. "As a doctor, I’ve counseled patients in similar situations and these end-of-life choices are never easy. I usually advise terminal patients to reduce stress, relax, and spend time laughing with loved ones."
Ward is an osteopathic physician and former Arizona state senator. She said during the Indiana interview that she could not presume to understand McCain’s prognosis and added that she is a Christian who believes in miracles.
Ward admitted that she is not an oncologist, a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating tumors, during the KTAR interview. She also disclosed that she had not spoken to McCain's doctors or examined the senator.
Nevertheless, she concluded that McCain’s “full force” return to the Senate was unlikely.
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After listing a few vague items on President Donald Trump’s agenda — “secure the border and stop illegal immigration and repeal Obamacare and fix the economy and fix the Veterans’ Administration” — Ward said that Arizonans “can’t be at a standstill while we wait for John McCain to determine what he’s going to do.”
Julie Tarallo, McCain’s spokeswoman, declined to respond to Ward’s statements.
McCain, for his part, promised to return soon.
If McCain were to resign, the current Arizona governor, Doug Ducey, would appoint a replacement until the next regular election, which occurs in 2018.
Ward said in the initial radio interview that she would be a strong choice to replace him.
"I have a proven track record in the Arizona state senate of being extremely effective and of listening to the people I represent," she said. "I made an extremely good showing against Sen. McCain against all odds. He outspent me nearly 10 to 1."
Ward lost to McCain by 12.5 points in 2016, but seemed to suggest she would soon be in Congress — one way or another.
"I look forward to getting to Washington, D.C.," she said in the KTAR interview that she concluded by plugging her poll numbers. "You all have made this about John McCain and Kelly Ward. I am focused — laser focused — on my race with Sen. Jeff Flake."
Flake, who Ward is challenging in the 2018 Republican primary, said he was taken aback by Ward’s radio appearance.
"John McCain is a fighter and an American hero,” Flake said in a statement. “I fully expect to see him back in the senate soon. I’m dumbstruck by Kelli Ward’s comments.”
McCain’s congressional colleagues have also stood by him.
"He has never shied from a fight and I know that he will face this challenge with the same extraordinary courage that has characterized his life," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement. "We all look forward to seeing this American hero again soon."