- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced Tuesday he will run for Arizona’s Senate seat as an unabashedly pro-Trump candidate, inflaming what was already one of the hottest races in the country.

The 85-year-old had hinted at a run last year, and his decision creates a tricky situation for Republicans trying to hold onto the seat, who now face a divisive primary whose focus will likely be the performance of President Trump.

“I am running for the U.S. Senate from the Great State of Arizona, for one unwavering reason: to support the agenda and policies of President Donald Trump in his mission to Make America Great Again,” the former sheriff of Maricopa County tweeted.

Mr. Arpaio is running to rehabilitate himself politically after he was defeated in his bid for a seventh term as sheriff in 2016, then convicted last year by a federal judge of criminal contempt of court, then pardoned by Mr. Trump a month later.

Mr. Arpaio joins Rep. Martha McSally and former state Sen. Kelli Ward in the primary contest to replace Sen. Jeff Flake, who announced he would step down after a single term, saying Mr. Trump had poisoned Washington.

The race has levels of intrigue.

Despite his controversial presidential pardon — the only one Mr. Trump has issued so far — Mr. Arpaio is still fighting the original conviction in court.

He says the entire case against him should be expunged from his record because the judge refused him a jury trial, and he was still in the middle of appealing the verdict when the pardon came through.

Mr. Arpaio also isn’t on very good terms with Mr. Flake, the Republican whose seat he’s seeking. Mr. Flake was critical of the Trump pardon, and his son even sued Mr. Arpaio for wrongful prosecution after being charged with cruelty to animals. The former sheriff won the case in a jury trial last month.

Sen. Flake told CNN on Tuesday he won’t be backing Mr. Arpaio.

“That’s not our best foot forward,” he said.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez called Mr. Arpaio “racist” and said his announcement was a “disturbing sign of moral decay in the modern Republican Party.”

Joe Arpaio is one of our nation’s most notorious agents of racism and bigotry,” Mr. Perez said. “He has spent his career tearing apart immigrant families and devastating Latino communities, and he has no place in the U.S. Senate.”

And Hispanic activists said Mr. Arpaio could backfire on Republicans, driving Hispanic voters to the polls to defeat GOP candidates across the country.

Mr. Arpaio, who billed himself “America’s toughest sheriff,” made national headlines for his use of tent-city jails and pink underwear for inmates, and for his staunch opposition to illegal immigration.

He tasked his deputies with assisting in enforcement of immigration law — a move that led to several federal investigations for discrimination and racial profiling, and eventually spawned the contempt of court conviction.

The Obama Justice Department announced it was pursuing the contempt of court charges in 2016 just as early voting began in Arizona for Mr. Arpaio’s re-election bid. The then-sheriff said that hurt his re-election.

Immigrant-rights groups had also poured into Maricopa County ahead of the election, intent on finally unseating the sheriff after 24 years in office.

Democrat Paul Penzone easily defeated Mr. Arpaio, 56-44.

Mr. Arpaio’s candidacy could make Arizona the premiere race in this year’s midterm congressional elections, as the GOP battles to keep control of the Senate.

Mr. Trump had already appeared to have endorsed Ms. Ward last year in what was shaping up as a primary between her and Mr. Flake. Now, Mr. Arpaio’s entry into the race could complicate things for the White House.

Mr. Arpaio said on “The Todd Starnes Show” on Tuesday that he was with Mr. Trump from the very beginning, embracing him in July 2015 even as most Republicans were keeping their distance.

Whether Mr. Trump will pick sides in the race remains to be seen.

Ms. McSally, a Republican from the state’s southeastern corner, has also told colleagues she plans to run, and Arizona newspapers reported Tuesday she’s likely to officially announce her bid later this week.

On the Democratic side, Reps. Kyrsten Sinema and Ann Kirkpatrick are running, along with a handful of others.

Joe Arpaio is unqualified to serve in the U.S. Senate,” Ms. Kirkpatrick said in an email to supporters Tuesday.

Mr. Trump promises to play a large role in the race, with the GOP primary candidates battling over their support for him. Hours after Mr. Arpaio’s Twitter announcement, Ms. McSally was at the White House as part of negotiations on an immigration deal.

A host of GOP candidates are running in Senate races across the country to create a pro-Trump force within Congress, hoping to tilt the GOP more toward the president and away from establishment Republican principles.

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