KINGMAN - State Sen. Kelli Ward's goal to become the first U.S. senator from Mohave County officially kicked off Tuesday when she announced she would challenge veteran Sen. John McCain in the 2016 Republican primary elections.
"It's official - I'm running for the U.S. Senate," said Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, on her website Tuesday morning, several hours before she was scheduled to officially announce her intentions at a Lake Havasu City restaurant.
She promised to champion sane spending and make secure borders a priority in Washington, D.C., if elected. She also said she would keep taxes low, the military strong and that she would protect her constituents from liberal policies.
While Ward was respectful of McCain's service to the nation - the former Navy pilot spent years as a prisoner of war after his jet was shot down in Vietnam - the physician has been going after McCain by trying to link him to prominent Democrats (such as President Obama, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid and the late Ted Kennedy) and the policies they support.
A relatively new state senator who was first elected in 2012, Ward's candidacy has been met with mixed reactions.
For instance, the leaders of two of Kingman's GOP groups are in wholesale disagreement.
"People have seriously underestimated Dr. Ward from the very beginning, myself included," said Dr. Laurence Schiff, president of the Conservative Republican Club of Kingman.
Schiff said many people thought she should have sought a county office when she ran for the state Senate in 2012, but he has since changed his mind.
"Kelli has done a magnificent job and represents true conservative values, and the Republican primary voters tend to be the most conservative," he said.
On the other hand, Richard Basinger, president of the Mohave Republican Forum, said this: "It would be my preference that Kelli stays as a state senator."
"I do not agree with John McCain's or (Sen.) Jeff Flake's stance on immigration and I do think Kelli would take the opposite position, but overall I believe she, and we, are better off if she serves out her term in the Legislature."
Both Schiff and Basinger agree McCain's 30 years in the Senate - and his ability to raise vast sums of campaign cash - make any challenger an underdog.
"I'm not saying it's impossible, but she's going to have a very rough go of it. Let's not forget that John McCain has done a lot of good things for Arizona and Mohave County," said Basinger.
Schiff, however, sees McCain as vulnerable.
"I don't think McCain is in nearly as good shape politically or financially as in 2010," said Schiff. "He is running against a female with (at least to my knowledge) no real skeletons in the closet."
Schiff also said McCain has "turned off" many Arizona Republicans over the past six years.
"[They] are on to his game of being a conservative only in election years," he said. "I suspect Kelli has only to split the Republican vote in Maricopa County to win. She will win Mohave and Yavapai counties by large margins, and Pima Republicans are more conservative than you think."