The decision by 85-year-old Sheriff Joe Arpaio to get back into politics by declaring his intention to run for the Arizona Senate Seat being vacated by Sen. Jeff Flake is rattling the state Republican party, which is afraid that a bruising Republican primary been Arpaio, and two female candidates who are backed by the Republican establishment and Steve Bannon, respectively could give Democrats the upper hand in a state that hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1996.
Arpaio’s run, according to the Wall Street Journal, is essentially a test of whether the political atmosphere in the state has shifted since he was at the center of the national immigration debate.
Despite his conviction on contempt charges for refusing to honor a court order to stop racially profiling suspected illegal immigrants, a recent poll by ABC 15 Arizona and OH Predictive Insights showed Arpaio in a statistical dead heat with establishment favorite US Rep. Martha McSally.
Indeed, following his pardon from President Trump, a longtime friend and political ally, there’s a good chance Arpaio could disappoint the Republican establishment by prevailing in the primary.
But while support for Arpaio in Arizona remains high, due in part to his willingness to challenge the federal government, attitudes toward his No. 1 issue, addressing illegal immigration, are beginning to shift...
The state’s law, SB 1070, allowed local police to enforce immigration law, and was partially invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court.
A poll taken last November of Arizona residents by the North American Research Partnership, a nonprofit that studies the border and promotes cross-border trade, found that 58% of people surveyed in Arizona opposed more laws to deport illegal immigrants.
The poll also found that about 68% of respondents opposed Mr. Trump’s proposed border wall.
Maricopa County’s new sheriff, Paul Penzone, has taken steps to distance himself from Mr. Arpaio. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has largely avoided immigration during his first term, keeping his focus on education and the economy.
Arpaio is facing two female challengers who are decades younger than him in the primary. McSally, 51, is an Air Force veteran, and Kelli Ward, 48, is a former state senator and another favorite of anti-establishment voters who might otherwise favor Arpaio.
Still, when Arpaio showed up at a meeting of the local Republican party on Saturday to pass out campaign literature, many attendees rushed to greet him.
In khakis and a sweater, Mr. Arpaio on Saturday looked much like any other retiree in this state known for its snowbirds.
He attracted some supporters looking to snap photos and shake his hand. A few ardent fans were high-school students.
“He cracks down hard on crime and illegal immigration,” said Luke Mosiman, 17, of Mesa, who is chairman of a local chapter of teenage Republicans. “He’ll get illegal immigrants out, and he’ll work well with Trump."
For what it’s worth, local Democrats rejoiced when Arpaio declared his candidacy, believing that a divisive Republican priority would benefit the Democratic frontrunner, who is vying for the Democratic nomination virtually unchallenged.
While some Arizona Republicans have hopes that a uniting figure will emerge from the primary, many fear a fierce fight among GOP candidates could give Democrats the upper hand.
Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema is the front-runner for her party’s nomination.
“There is no doubt Kyrsten Sinema woke up this morning put on some tap shoes and was tapping across her kitchen floor,” said Barrett Marson, an Arizona political campaign consultant not working for any of the Senate campaigns. "Even if he doesn’t win, it is a depleted Martha McSally who comes out of the primary."
Some Democrats were quick to criticize Mr. Arpaio’s entry into the race, saying he represents the state’s past.
“Joe Arpaio brings a violent and radical history against Hispanic Arizonans to a race that has been and will be a long, bruising, and very expensive primary for the Arizona Republican Party,” said Herschel Fink, executive director of the Arizona Democratic Party.
Despite this, Arpaio says he intends to focus on immigration as his main policy issue. When it comes to his political opponents, Arpaio says he’s not worried: They’ve been attacking him for years, he says, adding that he’s prepared to respond to criticisms about his arrest.
“The people here, especially in the Republican Party, they want something done about illegal immigration,” he said.
He said he is ready to face criticism about his tactics and his criminal conviction. “I know they are going to bring everything up again,” he said.
“They’ve been after me, anyway, so what’s the difference?”