Convicted criminal pardoned by Trump now running for Senate

"I have a lot to offer. I’m a big supporter of President Trump"

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio gestures to the crowd while delivering a speech on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. CREDIT: Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio gestures to the crowd while delivering a speech on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. CREDIT: Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

Joe Arpaio, the far-right former sheriff from Arizona who was pardoned by President Trump last August, announced Tuesday that he is running for Senate. The Trump pardon saved Arpaio from jail time after he was convicted of contempt of court in a racial profiling case.

The Washington Examiner first reported the 85-year-old’s candidacy, and Arpaio shared the story on Twitter, adding he was running “for one unwavering reason: to support the agenda and policies of President Donald Trump.”

Arpaio’s 24 years as sheriff of Maricopa County were marked by racist, extremist policies. He ran a jail he personally described as a “concentration camp.” In his jails, prisoners hung themselves at significantly higher rates than other county jails, and he failed to investigate hundreds of sex abuse cases, many of which involved children.

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When Trump pardoned Arpaio last summer, the Phoenix New Times shared a number of other stories about Arpaio’s time in power, including a time one of his jailers nearly broke the neck of a paraplegic man who asked for a catheter, the time he marched Latino prisoners into a segregated area fenced in with electric fencing, his “mugshot of the day” contest, and the time he staged an assassination attempt against himself, which cost taxpayers $1.1 million.

The editorial board at AZcentral.com also called Arpaio’s pardon a “slap to the Latino community,” writing, “This erases any doubt about whether Trump meant to empower them after the violence in Charlottesville. Arpaio is their darling. Arpaio is now back on his pedestal thanks to their president.”

Arpaio told the Examiner he has not discussed his Senate candidacy with Trump, though the president has spoken highly of Arpaio in the past.

“Throughout his time as sheriff, Arpaio continued his life’s work of protecting the public from the scourges of crime and illegal immigration,” Trump said in a statement when he pardoned the sheriff. “Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now 85 years old, and after more than 50 years of admirable service to our nation, he is [a] worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon.”

Trump added on Twitter at the time that Arpaio “kept Arizona safe.”

Now, “America’s Toughest Sheriff” is saying he wants to repay the favor: His pitch to Arizona voters boils down to supporting Trump’s every move.

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“I have a lot to offer. I’m a big supporter of President Trump,” Arpaio said. “I’m going to have to work hard; you don’t take anything for granted. But I would not being doing this if I thought that I could not win. I’m not here to get my name in the paper, I get that everyday, anyway.”

Arpaio’s strategy is a questionable one, though: Trump won the state by just 4.1 points in 2016 and currently has approval ratings as low as 33 percent in the state. Arpaio’s history will also certainly weigh heavily on his campaign, but he told the Examiner Tuesday that he welcomes the fight.

“I am outspoken. I’m looking forward to it. Let them come. They’ll have their political firing squads and bring tons of money here, because they don’t want to lose,” he said. “I just want to do everything I can to support our president.”

But others have already begun to express skepticism of Arpaio’s motives. An unnamed source in Arizona told The Hill it was a “serious fundraising scam,” and Arpaio’s age raises major questions. If he won, he’d take office for a six-year term at the spry age of 86.

Of course, not wanting to win doesn’t mean you won’t.

Democrats are taking the bid seriously, too.

“I believe the that the Trump presidency makes it very clear that whether he wants to [win] or not is irrelevant,” one Democratic consultant in told ThinkProgress in a text message Tuesday. “He is a candidate for Senate and he could win, so we gotta beat his ass.”

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In the race to replace Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who is retiring, Arpaio faces the Bannon-backed Kelli Ward, and Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) — an establishment favorite — is expected to announce her candidacy Friday.

Even before Arpaio entered the race, Arizona was shaping up to be one of the most interesting states in the upcoming midterms considering Flake’s retirement and what many see as an increasingly likelihood that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who is battling cancer, will step down. Democrats also hope to take several House districts in the state.

Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez released a statement about Arpaio’s candidacy Tuesday, saying, “It’s a sad and disturbing sign of moral decay in the modern Republican Party that a racist former sheriff and convicted criminal in Arizona and an accused child molester in Alabama are the best they have to offer. Joe Arpaio is one of our nation’s most notorious agents of racism and bigotry. He has spent his career tearing apart immigrant families and devastating Latino communities, and he has no place in the U.S. Senate… Joe Arpaio’s prejudice didn’t deserve a pardon from President Trump, and it certainly doesn’t deserve a U.S. Senate seat.”

Correction: An earlier headline on this story referred to Arpaio as a felon. Arpaio’s conviction was not actually classified as a felony.