If you thought Roy Moore was the worst Senate candidate Republicans could possibly come up with, think again. Disgraced former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced Tuesday that he will run for Senate, and the GOP leadership is bracing for impact.
The announcement came shortly after the publication of an interview with Washington Examiner, where Arpaio explained his reasoning for running to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.).
“I have a lot to offer. I’m a big supporter of President Trump,” he told the paper.
Arpaio’s announcement will be met by trepidation among establishment Republicans who have asserted after last month’s defeat in Alabama, where the party rallied around a candidate accused of sexual molestation of a teenage girl, that Republicans should not nominate controversial candidates.
The former sheriff gained popularity among immigration hardliners during his time as Maricopa County sheriff, representing the Phoenix area, proudly calling himself “America’s toughest sheriff” and touting a strict approach to border security.
He was also criticized for his tactics of racial profiling and mistreating prisoners. President Trump pardoned Arpaio last year after he was convicted of ignoring a court order related to racial profiling in his division.
Arpaio, who lost his elected sheriff’s office last year, has long floated bids for higher office. But he announced on Twitter he would run for Senate “to support the agenda and policies of President Donald Trump.”
Many of his controversial actions as sheriff included the use of an outdoor jail where he housed inmates in tents in the Arizona heat. A previous version of the sheriff’s office website touted that fact, noting that “all inmates … are subjected to the elements.”
He also played a major role in the movement questioning former President Obama’s birthplace, a conspiracy theory that Trump himself furthered until deep into his presidential bid.
Arpaio’s entry into the race casts further uncertainty into the state’s GOP Senate primary and complicates the calculus for former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who had been the only major candidate in the Republican primary.
Ward has been endorsed by former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon. But her campaign took a hit last week when Bannon landed on the wrong side of a dramatic rebuke from Trump after a new book quoted Bannon disparaging Trump’s son as “unpatriotic” for taking a meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign.
The winner of the GOP primary will likely face Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who is the heavy favorite in the Democratic primary.
Arpaio’s announcement, combined with Trump’s low approval ratings and a significant Democratic lead on the generic ballot, spells trouble for Republicans.