Joe Arpaio, the polarizing 85-year-old immigration hard-liner pardoned by President Donald Trump after a conviction of criminal contempt, announced today that he is running in Arizona for the U.S. Senate.
The move by Arpaio, who just six months ago faced the prospect of a jail sentence before the pardon, upended the race to replace Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican who abandoned his 2018 re-election campaign after coming under criticism from Trump.
The contenders for the seat include Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a centrist Democrat, and Kelli Ward, a conservative Republican and former state senator who aligns herself with Trump. Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, lost his own re-election bid for that post in 2016 to Paul Penzone, a Democrat and Phoenix police officer.
“Being a U.S. senator is a little different than being the sheriff, because you can do a lot of things in the U.S. Senate, and I have many plans, believe me,” Arpaio told the Washington Examiner in announcing his bid. “I have a lot to offer. I’m a big supporter of President Trump.”
Arpaio did not immediately return calls requesting comment. He confirmed the announcement on Twitter.
Arpaio quickly drew criticism after the announcement. He had come under fire repeatedly as sheriff over tactics to crack down on Latino immigrants, and was found guilty of criminal contempt in a case that made tempers flare in Arizona and around the country. Plaintiffs claimed Arpaio had regularly violated the rights of Latinos by racially profiling and detaining them.
“You lost the most populous Republican county in Arizona,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., in a missive on Twitter referring to the 2016 race for sheriff in Maricopa County. “Just give up this fundraising scam now.”
The move by Arpaio ignited debate over a race that was already hotly contested and widely followed for its capacity to shift the makeup of the Senate.
Some analysts compared his entry into the race to the failed campaign of Roy Moore, the former conservative judge and Trump supporter who lost a Senate bid in Alabama in December.
“He could possibly win a primary because of his popularity among a hard-core group of supporters in the GOP and his national fundraising ability,” said Tyler Montague, a Republican campaign strategist in Arizona.
“But in the end he’ll be another Roy Moore,” said Montague, referring to Moore’s contentious hard-line positions. “I think a lot of serious conservatives will realize that and reject his candidacy.”
But some supporters of Arpaio expressed optimism about his chances.
“Sheriff Joe is a good, solid, I would say conservative person,” said Vera Anderson, 76, a Republican organizer and activist in Phoenix who is also a vocal supporter of Trump. “He would be a good choice in my opinion.”