PHOENIX (Reuters) – Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Arizona’s largest county who built a national reputation as a staunch opponent of illegal immigration and found a powerful ally in President Donald Trump, is seeking to win his old job in Tuesday’s Republican primary.
Arpaio, 88, who called himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” suffered a landslide defeat in his re-election bid in 2016. Two years later, he lost a race to fill the seat of Republican U.S. Senator John McCain.
Arpaio, who lost his bid in 2016 for re-election as sheriff of Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, after 24 years in office, was damaged by a series of court judgments that left local taxpayers on the hook for $146 million.
He was found guilty of criminal contempt of court in 2017 by a federal judge who ruled that he had willfully violated a 2011 injunction barring his officers from stopping and detaining Latino motorists solely on suspicion that they were in the country illegally. Trump pardoned Arpaio before sentencing, the first pardon of his presidency.
Arpaio is in a three-way race for Maricopa County sheriff in the Republican primary, including a challenge from his former chief deputy, Jerry Sheridan. The winner will face Democrat Paul Penzone, the incumbent, in November. Penzone easily beat Arpaio in the 2016 general election.
Arpaio is vowing to continue the policing practices that made him a controversial figure in Arizona and beyond.
“Being sheriff now is more important than ever with all this chaos on the streets,” he told Reuters. “It’s time to bring back some law and order to the county.”
Political strategists are watching the race for signs of how receptive Arpaio’s hardline messaging on immigration and law and order — mirroring Trump’s — will be to voters.
Recent polls show Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic candidate, with a slight edge over Trump in Arizona, which has voted for a Democratic presidential candidate only once since 1948.
Since Trump won Arizona in 2016, suburban voters in Maricopa County, which is the country’s fastest-growing county, have soured on him, the state’s Democratic-leaning Latino population has continued growing, and transplants from more liberal places have helped Democrats add 60,000 more to their rolls than Republicans.
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