The chairwoman of the Republican Party of Arizona defended an email on Friday in which she had said the party would stop Mark Kelly, a Democrat running for United States Senate, “dead in his tracks.”
Mr. Kelly is the husband of the former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, whom a gunman shot in the head in 2011 during a meeting she was hosting for constituents. Ms. Giffords, then a member of the House of Representatives, survived the attack, which killed six people and wounded a dozen others.
“Support the Republican Party of Arizona today and, together, we’ll stop gun-grabber Mark Kelly dead in his tracks,” the chairwoman, Kelli Ward, wrote Thursday in a fund-raising email, The Associated Press reported. The email also targeted Mr. Kelly’s platform supporting gun safety.
Given the backdrop of heightened attention to mass shootings — 53 people died in such attacks last month alone — and the episode in which Ms. Giffords was shot, Ms. Ward’s email drew criticism.
On Twitter on Friday, Ruben Gallego, a Democratic congressman from Arizona, called it “disgusting” and said that Senator Martha McSally, Republican of Arizona, should call on Ms. Ward to resign.
A representative for Ms. McSally could not immediately be reached on Saturday.
Jacob Peters, a spokesman for Mr. Kelly, said in a statement that Mr. Kelly was running for Senate “to overcome this type of nasty divisiveness that does nothing for Arizonans.”
“This dangerous rhetoric has absolutely no place in Arizona and is what’s wrong with our politics,” the statement said.
A spokesman for Ms. Ward did not directly address the criticism, but pointed to a series of tweets in which she had defended herself.
Ms. Ward said she did not wish Mr. Kelly harm.
“We disagree politically on the Constitution and the #2a, and I’m well aware of the harm his policies would cause should he ever be elected,” she wrote, using a hashtag referring to the Second Amendment. “Dishonest stories like this are dangerous and irresponsible.”
Paul Gosar, a Republican congressman from Arizona, defended Ms. Ward.
“Differentiating between idioms, slang, analogies and metaphors from statement of facts” is learned in childhood, Mr. Gosar wrote on Twitter. “Ignore #FakeNews and it’s handmaidens of stupid outrage.”
On his website, Mr. Kelly, who is a Navy combat veteran and a retired astronaut, promised to work for universal background checks and to keep guns out of the hands of stalkers and domestic abusers. He also wants to reduce mass shootings and suicides.
Mr. Kelly announced in February his bid for the Senate in the 2020 election.
He is challenging Ms. McSally, who was a member of Congress when Gov. Doug Ducey appointed her in December to fill a seat left vacant by the death of John McCain. She was appointed after a placeholder appointee, Jon Kyl, resigned.
The race is being closely watched, as Arizona is one of several contests that could decide control of the Senate in 2020.
In 2018, Kyrsten Sinema became the first Democrat to win a United States Senate seat in Arizona since the 1980s.