Have run-ins with Washington cost Arpaio votes at home?

In nearly two decades as sheriff in Arizona’s most populous county, Joe Arpaio’s carefully crafted reputation for being fearless and tough on crime helped him coast to victory time and again. But as he seeks a sixth term, the veteran lawman is running hard to keep his seat.

In TV campaign ads and event appearances, Sheriff Arpaio has been forced to tone down his brashness, fend off accusations of racial discrimination against Latinos, and counter recurring complaints over what critics say were lax investigations of sex crimes against children.

Long known in Arizona for his penchant to engage in unorthodox law enforcement tactics, such as outfitting inmates in pink underwear, Arpaio was thrust onto the national stage in recent years for his crusade against illegal immigration.

His sweeps in mostly Latino neighborhoods and his unwavering support for the state’s divisive immigration law, SB 1070, won him admirers near and far. But it also brought lawsuits from Latinos and the Obama administration over various accusations that included racial profiling.

Arpaio’s critics now are training the spotlight on his legal troubles in an effort to persuade voters that it’s time for a new sheriff in town.

Although Arpaio still boasts bedrock support from his party, his foray earlier this year into the birther movement that questions President Obama’s birthplace failed to win over GOP allies in the state legislature. Arpaio’s probe, which rendered Obama’s birth certificate fake, went nowhere. Critics say Arpaio wasted precious resources on investigating a much-debunked theory outside of his jurisdiction that would’ve been better spent working cases in Maricopa County.

The group recently launched a series of TV and radio ads that portray the sheriff in a negative light and encourage voters to cast a ballot for his main rival, Paul Penzone. Mike Stauffer is in the race as an independent candidate, but it is Penzone, an articulate, retired police officer in his mid-40s, who has secured the endorsement of various Latino groups that Arpaio has alienated.

The sheriff won’t give either of his opponents the time of day, let alone participate in a debate.

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