John McCain defeats GOP challengers to win Arizona primary

U.S. Senator John McCain speaks to reporters in Kabul, Afghanistan July 4, 2016.

REUTERS/Josh Smith - RTX2JMUP

PHOENIX -- U.S. Sen. John McCain beat back a primary challenge Tuesday from a Republican tea party activist to win the right to seek a sixth Senate term in November, clearing an important hurdle in a race that was inundated with questions about GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The 2008 GOP presidential nominee easily defeated former state Sen. Kelli Ward and two other Republicans on the ballot.

He faces a tough Democratic challenge in the November general election from U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick. She advanced Tuesday after facing only a write-in opponent in the primary.

McCain, who turned 80 on Monday, had been campaigning hard, rallying campaign workers and making get-out-the-vote stops in keeping his vow not to take the primary for granted.

“I’m humbled by and grateful for our success tonight and for the honor to be the Arizona Republican Party’s nominee for election to the United States Senate,” McCain said in prepared remarks.

Ward had been mainly ignored by McCain, but she got national attention by saying in recent interviews that McCain would be unable to complete another six-year term because of his age.

Ward cast the race as a David and Goliath battle.

“The overwhelming message is it is time for Sen. McCain to retire and it’s time for new blood to go into Washington, D.C.,” she said in a recent interview.

The contest between Ward and McCain was often overshadowed by Trump and his outspoken comments.

Trump had attacked many issues dear to the Arizona senator, including the family of a fallen soldier, NATO and even McCain’s own military service.

Yet McCain has stuck by his support for Trump, at times seemingly through gritted teeth.