John McCain's primary opponent suggests he might die in office

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 07: Committee chairman Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) questions U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter during a hearing held by the Senate Armed Services Committee July 7, 2015 in Washington, DC. Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey (R) testified on the topic of “Counter-ISIL Strategy.” (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Win McNamee, Getty Images

State Sen. Kelli Ward, who’s challenging veteran GOP Sen. John McCain, has a new pitch for voters in Arizona: vote for me because my 79-year-old opponent might die in office.

“I’m a doctor,” Ward said in an interview with Politico. “The life expectancy of the American male is not 86. It’s less.”

Ward, a 47-year-old physician, is challenging McCain in his Aug. 30 Republican primary. While McCain is widely expected to win, Ward is putting up a challenge—and keeping McCain from focusing fully on what’s shaping up to be a competitive general election race against Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick.

Though age is not usually an issue that is addressed head-on by a candidate’s opponents, Ward said Arizonans “have the right to know he’s an 80-year old man who’s been in Washington for more than 40 years.” (McCain, first elected to the U.S. House in 1983, has actually been in DC for just under 34 years.)

Ward even said that older people decline “physiologically,” implying that McCain will be increasingly unable to control his anger and emotions in office.

“There are things that happen physiologically with the body and the mind. One of them is control over your anger and he’s already known as an angry man,” Ward said. “It becomes more and more difficult to control those kinds of outbursts. And we have to have someone with a steady hand, someone with the ability to think on their feet. Someone who can problem-solve.”

In response, McCain called Ward’s age-based attacks a “dive to the bottom,” saying it’s an example of just how much political campaigns have devolved over the years. He made reference to an incident during the 2008 presidential campaign, when McCain corrected a supporter who suggested at one of his rallies that then-Sen. Barack Obama was “an Arab.” (“No, ma’am,” McCain responded at the time. “He’s a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about.”)

“People are stunned that I said to the woman that Barack Obama is an honorable man in 2008. That was sort of the standard way you conducted yourself,” McCain told Politico.

“It turns people off. I think it harms all of us when you have this level of personal attacks. I don’t think it’s good for the political process,” he continued. “But it is what it is.”

Also, though he didn’t mention this in his response to Ward, McCain comes from a family with some longevity: his mother celebrated her 104th birthday earlier this year.

  • Emily Schultheis

    Emily Schultheis is a reporter/editor for CBS News Digital.