Joe Arpaio, the longtime Phoenix-area sheriff whose headline-grabbing approach to immigration made him an ally of President Donald Trump, will run in the 2018 Republican primary to replace Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
Arpaio, 85, made the bid official in an interview with the Washington Examiner.
“I’m not here to get my name in the paper,” he said. “I get that every day, anyway.”
Arpaio, who has frequently talked about seeking higher office, said he decided to run as a “big supporter of President Trump” who would back the president wholeheartedly. He is entering a primary against Kelli Ward, a former state senator also running as a Trump ally. His decision may create an opening for Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., a Republican with more moderate views on immigration who is contemplating a bid for the seat and is backed by party leaders in Washington.
“Sheriff Joe has been a patriot, but at the end of the day in terms of running for this election, Kelli Ward is going to be hard to beat,” said Eric Beach, a political strategist for Ward’s campaign. “I’m confident that this will not split the vote. The reality is that Kelly has a lot of momentum in the race.”
The former sheriff’s decision came as a surprise to some Democrats, who thought Arpaio’s career had ended in 2016. After 24 years as Maricopa County’s chief law enforcement officer, Arpaio was handily defeated by Democrat Paul Penzone. Trump carried the county by three points; Arpaio ran 12 points behind Penzone, losing by more than 130,000 votes.
Eight months later, Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt for having ignored a judge’s order to stop detaining immigrants simply because he suspected that they lacked legal status. But he had an ally in Trump, who had campaigned alongside Arpaio. Trump said the former sheriff was treated “unbelievably unfairly.”
Within weeks of the conviction, Trump granted Arpaio a full and unconditional pardon — the first of his presidency. Democrats cried foul, and dozens of them filed an unsuccessful lawsuit to stop the pardon. Arpaio returned to public life, speaking at a fundraiser for a congressional challenger to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).
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Arpaio’s Senate bid in the year of his 86th birthday is making Democrats even more bullish on a race in which Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., has already consolidated most Democratic support.
“We beat him like a drum in 2016, and we’ll beat him like a drum if he runs again,” Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., told reporters last year.
Asked Tuesday about Arpaio’s decision, Gallego amended his prediction: Democrats would beat Arpaio “like a drum at a college-football game.”