NEW RIVER, ARIZONA — His wife is cancer free, and he isn’t running for the Senate to raise money, thank you very much. That was the message Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, gave to a small group of reporters at a Bikers for Trump rally Sunday night.
Arpaio, who as Maricopa County’s top lawman was best known for running a jail he called a “concentration camp” in which he tortured hundreds of immigrants and minorities, made an appearance at the Roadrunner Restaurant and Saloon Sunday evening. The event, put on by Bikers for Trump, was purportedly to support Debbie Lesko, the Republican nominee to replace former Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) in Tuesday’s special election. But it was Arpaio who ultimately stole the show. After giving a short speech about the importance of supporting Trump and calling on attendees to vote for Lesko Tuesday, Arpaio spoke to three reporters and lashed out at his critics.
Arpaio was pardoned by Trump last year after he was charged with criminal contempt of court for defying a court order to stop profiling Latinos. Now, he’s running to replace the retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Last January, Flake belittled Arpaio’s plan, quipping that he didn’t expect the former sheriff’s candidacy to last very long. It’s a remark about which Arpaio still seems to be upset.
“I already raised half a million dollars in two months. I’m in it to win,” Arpaio said Sunday. “For all those people who say I’m just doing this — like Flake — ‘He’s not serious,’ I’m going to tell you, I am running to win. They can say whatever they want, that I’m just doing it to get publicity. I can get publicity every day. I do anyway. I don’t have to run for Senate to get any publicity.”
Arpaio continued in this vein, saying, “And by the way, my wife is cancer free, so anybody that wants to keep throwing that out, I got news for them. I’ve been married 60 years, I know my wife, and she’s behind me 101 percent.”
Arpaio was joined at Sunday night’s rally by Kelli Ward, who is also running for Flake’s seat. Asked by ThinkProgress why he believes voters should support him over Ward or Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), the establishment favorite for the seat, Arpaio said, “Look at my resume. You got about five hours so I can tell ya?”
Arpaio insisted that voters on the campaign trail were enthusiastically supporting his run.
“I’m getting a great response. What are you, kidding? Great response,” he said. “I’ve been around for 24 years as the longest serving sheriff in Arizona. I’ve been the top law enforcement official in Mexico, Texas, Arizona, sheriff, so I have 38 years law enforcing experience, the top guy in both Mexico and the United States border.”
Notably, Arpaio was voted out of office in 2016, and though he was stationed in Mexico during his 25-year career with the Drug Enforcement Administration, he was never the top law enforcement official in Mexico.
Arpaio said Sunday that he doesn’t know if and doesn’t care whether Trump will endorse him.
“I was with [Trump] from day one. Now you got everybody for him, but that’s great. Glad they joined the team,” Arpaio said. “I’ll be with him ‘til the end. He can endorse whoever he wants, I’m still for him, I’ll win this race, I never asked for an endorsement, I go to the people, but I don’t know what he’s going to do, I don’t ask him. I don’t talk about needing him and all that, OK?”
Arpaio told reporters Sunday that he has big plans if he’s elected, too, and that priority number one is opening an office on the border. If he’s elected, he also said he plans to only serve one term. (He made a similar promise in 1992 when he first ran for sheriff. He is now, however, 85 years old.)
“I’m not going to Washington to make a career out of it and to start raising money the minute [I] get there,” he said. Then, he added, “I got a lot of exciting things to talk about, you guys will learn about it. I’m not ready to talk about it. I’m here to win.”
UPDATE, May 2, 2017: In a phone call with ThinkProgress Arpaio Wednesday, Arpaio said he wanted to clarify what he said about being the “the top law enforcement official in Mexico.” Arpaio said he was the “top federal law enforcement official” while working with the DEA in Mexico.