Sheriff Joe Arpaio has become an almost unstoppable force in his 20 years in office by driving home two themes: that he will unceasingly crack down on crime and, more recently, illegal immigration. But the self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America is in the middle of the most difficult re-election fight of his career — largely because those themes are being turned against him.
Arpaio has been dogged by revelations that his office failed to adequately investigate more than 400 sex-crimes cases — including dozens of alleged child molestations — and allegations that his deputies have racially profiled Latinos in his boundary-pushing immigration patrols.
It has all added up to a tough fight for metro Phoenix’s 80-year-old sheriff, who has become a national political figure on the immigration issue and was courted by Republican presidential candidates this year as they sought to bolster their immigration credentials.
A lack of reliable independent polling makes it hard to tell how competitive the race is. Arpaio, for his part, has far more money on hand — $3.8 million at last count — than his rivals. David Berman, a senior research fellow at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, said it’s unclear whether Arpaio will prevail again, but he’s more vulnerable than ever.
Berman said some voters disapprove of his handling of sex-crimes cases and are tired of his focus on illegal immigration. “There are people who are concerned, who want to get away from the state’s kooky image,” Berman said. “Sometimes, he feeds into that.”