The last time Kelli Ward stopped by the Tucson Republican Club of Pima County she was a well-known conservative candidate trying to unseat Sen. John McCain.

She was well-known and well-liked by the small group that meets in midtown Tucson, but when she returned on Tuesday — she was greeted as the woman who forced Republican Sen. Jeff Flake to retire politically.

About 60 people packed into the Sabbar Shrine Temple to hear Ward speak for about an hour, with the former emergency-room doctor and state senator telling the crowd how she became the leading GOP candidate for Flake’s seat in next year’s midterm elections.

“You all know I’ve been seen as an insurgent-type candidate in the past,” Ward told the crowd. “I think we are past that now, we’ve been able to have a sitting senator decide not to run again. I will certainly tell you that our campaign had something to do with that.”

While Flake has been a critic of President Trump even after announcing on the Senate floor last month that he wouldn’t run again, Ward has praised the president.

“I will fight for the America first agenda that Donald Trump talked about on the campaign trail and since he has been in office,” Ward said. “I am disappointed because our side has not stood up beside the president and fought hard for those things that we as the electorate have cried out for.”

She told the audience there were three groups standing in the way of the president’s policies — Democrats, some Republicans and the media.

Ward spent most of the hour answering questions from the audience but outlined her support for a number of Trump policies.

She supports building a new wall along the Mexico border, repealing the Affordable Care Act, cutting off all federal funding to Planned Parenthood, lowering the corporate tax rate, reforming the federal welfare system and banning transgender individuals from serving in the military.

But Ward wasn’t afraid to argue with the crowd, challenging a man after he suggested transgender individuals had mental problems.

“Regarding transgendered people, I think everyone across the board should be treated with respect, with honor, with dignity, with love. It is my job as a Christian person to love everyone,” Ward said.

The one name not mentioned during her hour-long speech was U.S. Rep. Martha McSally.

The Congressional District 2 Republican is expected to announce that she will run for Flake’s seat in the coming days after telling her Republican colleagues in the House that she was going to run a few weeks ago.

On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema has also announced her plans to run for the Senate seat.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at jferguson@tucson.com or 573-4197. On Twitter: @JoeFerguson

Reporter

Reporter with the Arizona Daily Star. I cover politics as well as the city of Tucson and other municipalities in Southern Arizona.