Kelli Ward criticized for suggesting McCain pre-timed announcement to damage her campaign

Hours before Sen. John McCain died on Saturday, a Republican seeking Arizona’s other U.S. Senate seat suggested that his family’s earlier announcement that he was ending cancer treatment had been timed to hurt her campaign.

Former State Sen. Kelli Ward, who lost a primary to McCain running from the right in 2016 and is now trying to win the GOP nomination for retiring Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat, made the suggestion in response to a Facebook post by a campaign aide.

According to screenshots of the conversation posted on Twitter by Arizona political reporters, the aide, Jonathan Williams, wondered if it was “just a coincidence” that the announcement of McCain ending medical treatment came the day Ward was launching a statewide bus tour, her big push before Tuesday’s primary.

Ward replied: “I think they wanted to have a particular narrative that is negative to me.”

After her response was Tweeted out, Ward deleted the post and replaced it with one claiming the media was concocting a story.

Aaron Borders, an Arizona lobbyist and ex-vice chair of the Maricopa County GOP, shared the comment on his Facebook page told The Washington Post that Ward, “shouldn’t be saying any of this. Leave it alone. [McCain’s] not even an opponent. That’s about as narcissistic as it gets,”

“I’ve said again and again to pray for Senator McCain & his family,” Ward wrote. “These decisions are terrible to have to make. I feel compassion for him and his family as they go through this.”

McCain, a war hero who survived five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, served three decades in Congress and went on to become the Republican Party’s nominee for president in 2008, died Saturday. He was 81 years old.

The Associated Press contributed to this report