During a CNN interview on Thursday, Kelli Ward, a top Republican candidate in the race to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake (R-AZ), defended Joe Arpaio, who just hours earlier claimed to have “proof” that former President Obama’s birth certificate is fake. Arpaio is also running for the same seat, against Ward.
CNN host Poppy Harlow pressed Ward as to whether she thinks there’s anything to the conspiracy theory Arpaio and President Donald Trump rode to national political prominence during the Obama years: that the former president was not born in the U.S. At first, Ward dodged the question, saying it’s “a controversy” that “doesn’t need to be discussed.” But pressed further, Ward conceded that she does in fact believe Obama was born in the U.S.
Later on, Ward — who was recently leading among Republican candidates vying to win the primary — praised Arpaio, the longtime sheriff of Maricopa County who was convicted of contempt of court in a racial profiling case last year, but then pardoned by President Trump.
“Joe’s a patriot, he has been a leading on fighting illegal immigration here in our state,” Ward said, eliciting an incredulous response from Harlow.
“When you say that Joe Arpaio has been a leader on immigration — I mean, he’s been convicted of racially profiling Latinos,” Harlow said. “How is that being a leader on immigration?”
Ward replied by asserting that Arpaio “has fought for the rule of law here in Arizona.”
“And broken it!” Harlow said. “Joe Arpaio was convicted. You say that he’s fought for the rule of law — he broke the law.”
“You know, he was pardoned by the president, and he has been a leader,” Ward replied.
Asked later if she’s “comfortable with his racial profiling,” Ward demurred.
“You know, people here in Arizona want the border secured, and that’s why Sheriff Joe was so popular when he was in office,” she said.
In fact, even though Trump carried Maricopa County in 2016, Arpaio lost his reelection bid that year by nearly 10 points.
If you’re tempted to think that the third leading Republican candidate competing for Flake’s seat is more moderate than Arpaio or Ward, think again. During an interview on Fox News later Thursday, Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), who’s widely expected to enter the Senate race, mocked Democrats for wanting to provide legal protections to 800,000 Dreamers without also spending billions on Trump’s unpopular border wall.
“It’s not happening… they are now trying to hold our military hostage so they can protect people who are here illegally,” McSally said.
Polling released shortly after Arpaio announced his entry into the race showed the former sheriff and McSally leading the pack with roughly 30 percent of the vote each, with Ward polling behind them at about 25 percent.