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8:47 AM Sat, Nov. 17th

Race to succeed U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake heats up

2 former Kelli Ward staffers join Joe Arpaio’s campaign; race tightens

Joe Arpaio, Rep. Martha McSally and Kelli Ward

Joe Arpaio, Rep. Martha McSally and Kelli Ward

LAKE HAVASU CITY – Just a few weeks from election day, Joe Arpaio is shaking up his U.S. Senate campaign with the addition of two former Kelli Ward staffers. Arpaio said last week he hired Dustin Stockton as senior strategist and Jennifer Lawrence as communications director. Stockton and Lawrence held similar positions with the Ward campaign before abruptly quitting last year.

Arpaio told the News-Herald he doesn’t believe Stockton and Lawrence’s previous employment with Ward adds any kind of tactical advantage for his campaign.

“I don’t know what they might have,” Arpaio said. “I hired them because they are experts and that’s all I’m concerned about. It’s all about winning this race.”

Other staffing changes in Arpaio’s camp include the addition of Chris Hegstrom as campaign manager. Hegstrom is taking over the duties of Chad Willems who will remain a chief consultant. Hegstrom has worked for Arpaio since 2009, when he joined the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office, eventually becoming director of media relations.

Meanwhile, the three-way race in the Republican primary is heating up as it heads in to its final weeks. The OHPI/ABC15 poll conducted in late July showed the race to replace Sen. Jeff Flake was tightening, with 35 percent of the 576 likely voters saying they preferred Martha McSally, 27 percent choosing Ward and 15 percent going for Arpaio. Nearly a quarter of likely voters said they were still undecided. Polling data showed Ward made strong progress with voters since the last poll, narrowing McSally’s lead from 14 points to 8. However, Ward has found her strongest support in rural areas, according to the poll, and most of the undecided voters are in Maricopa County.

Arpaio believes he is beginning to peak in popularity, despite the relatively late start of his political run in January.

“We have learned things on how to improve,” he added. “Now we are in a critical moment and it’s time to take action.”

Ward, meanwhile, doubled down on her criticism of McSally and Democratic candidate Krysten Sinema in a new digital ad released late last week. In the ad, called “Strong Voice,” Ward says both politicians have been “wasteful and reckless” when it comes to spending.

Finally, McSally was endorsed on Sunday by the Arizona Republic. The Phoenix-based newspaper’s editorial board cited her congressional experience as the reason she’s the best qualified for the Senate seat, but the board also acknowledged that Ward “has more command of the issues than many give her credit for.” Ward blasted the Republic on Twitter after learning of the endorsement as “fake news.”