Sen. John McCain of Arizona is banking his political career on a simple but compelling argument: His Republican primary opponent, emergency room doctor and state Sen. Kelli Ward, is a nut.
As a state senator in 2014, Ward convened a nearly two-hour hearing on the conspiracy theory that the government is poisoning the populace by spraying chemicals, known as “chemtrails,” from airplanes. Ward maintains she was simply responding to the concerns of her constituents and hoped that actual experts might be able to dispel their concerns, although she said at the time that she was “open” to introducing legislation on chemtrails.
The pro-McCain group Arizona Grassroots Action has run an ad mocking Ward’s hearing, featuring text composed in skywriting script. McCain’s campaign has dubbed Ward “Chemtrail Kelli” and last week released an ad with footage of Ward’s chemtrails hearing, charging that the state senator “fuels conspiracy theories at taxpayer expense.”
But the chemtrails hearing was hardly a one-time incident. In her short political career, Ward has flirted with the conspiracy-theory fringe by making appearances on 9/11 truther radio programs, advising citizens to stay vigilant against UN helicopters, warning against government “indoctrination,” and proposing an unusual theory that the Affordable Care Act was part of a plot to force rural residents to move to cities.
McCain leads Ward in the polls, but with more than a quarter of voters undecided, he still has less than 40 percent support, according to the most recent survey of the race—an uncomfortable position for a five-term incumbent. If he can survive the August primary, he still faces a tough reelection fight in November against Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick. McCain himself has suggested that Donald Trump’s emergence as the party’s presidential nominee could put his normally safely Republican seat in jeopardy this fall. “This may be the race of my life,” he told donors at a private fundraiser, according to audio of the event leaked to Politico.
Ward, who represents a largely rural district in the state’s northwest corner, is particularly concerned about a UN agreement called Agenda 21. Designed to promote sustainable development worldwide, the compact is nonbinding and has never been approved by the US Senate. Nonetheless, Ward co-sponsored a bill in 2013 that would prohibit Arizona from complying with Agenda 21. As she explained at a hearing, Agenda 21 wasn’t just about sustainability—it was about breaking the back of rural America in order to coerce citizens into moving to cities. “I’d go so far to say that what we’re doing with health care relates to Agenda 21 as well, because we’d like to see those rural hospitals close and fold under the pressure of not taking money from the federal government to hold them up,” Ward said. “Because when those things close, that does push people toward more centralized living in high-rise apartments [and] not in the rural areas, which tend to be freer thinkers and freer livers.”
In a 2013 interview with an Arizona radio host and chemtrails activist named Luca Zanna, Ward discussed mysterious helicopters that had been spotted in Arizona, as well as the prospect of martial law, or even a foreign power sending troops to subdue American citizens. “I can tell you I have an apartment down here in Phoenix that I stay in during the session, and I hear helicopters all the time that I hear outside my window,” Ward said. “Now I don’t know if they’re medical helicopters, I don’t know if they’re searching for bad guys on the ground because there’s some kind of shooting or some kind of activity.”