Senate candidate Kelli Ward apologizes for suggesting McCain timed announcement to hurt her campaign

PHOENIX -- Republican Senate candidate Kelli Ward apologized Monday for suggesting an announcement by Sen. John McCain's family that he would end his cancer treatment was designed to hurt her campaign, saying her comment had been misinterpreted.

"I do understand how many could have misconstrued my comments as insensitive, and for this I apologize," Ward told reporters at her campaign headquarters. "The intention of my comments were in no way directed at Sen. McCain or his family."

In a Facebook post over the weekend -- following the McCain family's announcement, but before his death -- one of Ward's campaign staffers speculated that the timing might have been designed "to take media attention off her campaign." Ward seemed to agree, writing in response, "I think they wanted to have a particular narrative that they hope is negative to me."

Reading from a written statement Monday, Ward said she hoped to "set the record straight" regarding her comment, which has sparked backlash in the final stretch of her primary campaign. On Tuesday, she will face off against Rep. Martha McSally, the front-runner, and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for the Republican nomination in the race to succeed Sen. Jeff Flake.

"To be clear, my comments were in no way directed at Sen. McCain or at his family or his team," she said, adding that they were "in reference to the media" and its "hope for a narrative that would hinder the momentum of our campaign."

Ward acknowledged that she and McCain, whom she had challenged in the 2016 Republican primary, "held different political views on many, many things -- on domestic policy, foreign policy, and of course, on President Trump." But, Ward added, "our differences were always strictly political."

McCain remained a central bogeyman in Ward's campaign this year, even as he fought brain cancer.

Ward has also at times seemingly crossed a line into insensitive rhetoric. On Monday, she tweeted, "Political correctness is like a cancer!"

Ward later stood by that wording, saying, "Political correctness, yes, is exactly like a cancer."

She also drew public scorn last year when she said McCain should step down from the Senate "as quickly as possible," suggesting he would not be able to perform his duties.

Ward defended that statement again Monday, explaining, "If you aren't able to do that job and do it well, then you should" resign.

Asked whether she could better express herself, the former state senator said her style is to "talk directly to the people."

"I'm not a robot. I'm not an automaton. I'm not somebody who's programmed with talking points," Ward said. "I don't mean to offend people, I just mean to speak directly to people, and I think that's why people want me in this race."