Kelli Ward, an anti-establishment conservative Republican running for the Senate in Arizona, told CNN she is "not opposed to increasing the age to purchase a firearm."
That stance puts her in line not only with President Donald Trump, who's made a pitch to raise the age to 21, but also with Sen. Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican whom Ward sought to challenge until he announced his retirement last year. Flake has backed a Senate bill that would raise the minimum purchasing age.
Ward is now facing Rep. Martha McSally and former Sheriff Joe Arpaio in the Republican primary for the open seat, with McSally enjoying favored status among the national GOP and its donor network. But Ward is working to establish herself as a palatable outsider alternative.
In the halls of the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington on Thursday, where an overwhelmingly pro-gun-rights crowd of activists had assembled, Ward outlined a moderate position on gun laws that is at odds with the National Rifle Association and an influential slice of the Republican base, who oppose raising the minimum age to buy a firearm. Asked whether she had considered the political risk of her stance, Ward dismissed it.
"I think we've got to get beyond political risk and actually start taking care of our kids and making sure they're safe at our schools, making sure that we're addressing those mental health issues that do exist," she said.
Her record supporting the Second Amendment, she added, lends her unique credibility to take on the issue and back potential changes in policy.
"I have an A+ rating with the NRA and I'm a life member myself, and so if there's anybody that's going to be out there fighting for our state to maintain our Second Amendment rights, it's me, Dr. Kelli Ward," she said.
Still, Ward's stance could set her up for a clash with the NRA -- and possibly jeopardize support from the influential group during her difficult primary.
In meetings this week with donors and conservative groups and interviews with national media, Ward sought "to get the word out" that she could be a viable, palatable candidate -- not the "Chemtrail Kelli" caricature that has been pushed by some national Republican groups.
"We need to dispel that fake persona, that cartoon that John McCain and his supporters have attempted to create about me in the last election," Ward said. "And people who are meeting me understand that I am competent, qualified, capable and ready to go to Washington and be the next US senator from the state of Arizona."