Joe Arpaio Is Running For Senate

Controversial former Sheriff Joe Arpaio is running for Senate in Arizona.

Joe Arpaio

Joe Arpaio, the controversial former Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona who was convicted on contempt of court charges before being pardoned by President Trump, has announced that he’s running for the Senate seat being vacated by Senator Jeff Flake:

Republican Joe Arpaio, a close ally of President Trump and former sheriff known for his provocative approach to combatting illegal immigration, is running for Senate in Arizona.

The 85-year-old Arpaio could shake up the late August Republican primary in a critical open-seat race to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. Trump pardoned Arpaio last summer, sparing the former sheriff jail time after he was convicted of ignoring a federal court order in a racial-profiling case.

The polarizing yet iconic former Maricopa County sheriff, beloved by many conservatives for his hawkish immigration policies, presents an alternative to the unimpressive Kelli Ward and a potential obstacle to Rep. Martha McSally. She is expected to launch within days and is widely viewed as the Republicans’ strongest general election candidate.

In a telephone interview with the Washington Examiner, Arpaio shrugged off concerns about his age, dismissed Republican insiders’ anxiety that his poor reputation with nonwhite voters would put the seat in play for the Democrats in the midterm, and discussed plans to work with Trump on behalf of Arizona.

“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 served as the elected sheriff of Maricopa County, which encompasses Phoenix and surrounding suburbs, for 24 years until a Democrat ousted him in 2016.

Through strict opposition to illegal immigration and unorthodox policing methods, Arpaio cultivated a national image as a tough, law-and-order cop. That made him a favorite of conservative media and popular on the GOP endorsement circuit as Republicans throughout the country sought to bolster their border security bona fides in primaries.

Arpaio’s sharp rhetoric and law enforcement practices also drew intense criticism. Democrats, some Republicans, and advocates for immigrants — both legal and illegal — accused him of unconstitutional racial profiling and even bigotry. Arpaio said he expects more of the same in his Senate campaign, but vowed not to alter his approach.

“My mother and father came here from Italy, legally of course. I have a soft spot for the Mexican community having lived there,” he said. “I’m not going to get into my personal life, but I will say we have four grandkids and some have a different ethnic and racial background. I don’t say that. I don’t use my grandkids. So, I have a soft spot, but still, I’m going to do my job. You have to do it.”

“Being a U.S. senator is a little different than being the sheriff, because you can do a lot of things in the U.S. Senate, and I have many plans, believe me. It’s tough. It’s a tough decision. But, if you’re going to come across that border, you should be arrested and get the consequences of it,” Arpaio added.


To be sure, Arpaio’s reputation and close affiliation with Trump is virtually guaranteed to rev up a conservative base that had pushed the pragmatic Flake into retirement because of his feud with the president. That could work in his favor in a midterm, elections in which Republican turnout has tended to dominate. But in an election shaping up as challenging for the GOP, Arpaio’s candidacy could make nervous a party defending a 51-49 Senate majority.

Even if Arpaio loses the primary to McSally, he would have had seven months to push her to the right and define GOP messaging on a host of issues — and not just in Arizona. Trump is sure to promote Arpaio’s campaign, and Republican primary candidates all over the country might follow his lead.

Arpaio said he relishes the fight, whether from the Left or from supporters of McSally on the Right.

“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.”


Arpaio’s main offer to Arizonans: He would support Trump unflinchingly, should he win the nomination and defeat the likely Democratic nominee, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema. That’s not insignificant. Both Flake and McCain have a contentious relationship with the president, and he with them.

To that end, Arpaio suggested he could support some form of legalization of participants in the since discontinued Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program that protected illegal immigrants brought in as children from deportation. Of course, in typical fashion, Arpaio offered his own view of what should be done.

“I have a far-out plan, which may look stupid,” he said. “When they come to your attention that they’re here illegally, these young people, deport them back to Mexico — or whatever — and then try to put them on a fast track to come back into the United States legally with special permits. What’s wrong with that? They’d say they don’t know where their home country is, so let them go there and spend six months, because it might take that long to do paperwork to get them here legally and let them see their home country and see what it’s really like. They ought to be proud where they came from. I’m proud being an Italian American. I’m proud of Italy. I’m proud my father, mother came over, proud of it. So, you could kill two birds with one stone.”

Arpaio also announced his candidacy on Twitter:

Arpaio, of course, is the former long-serving Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona who gained national attention and celebrity status on the right for his hardline position on policing and immigration. His tenure did not come without controversy, though, especially when it came to the manner in which it treated prisoners in general and Latinos in particular. He also became closely associated with Donald Trump long before Trump entered the 2016 Presidential race nearly three years ago due to his full-throated embrace of the birther conspiracy theories about former President Obama which Trump championed during his brief flirtation with the idea of running for President in 2012. In November of 2016, he was defeated in his bid for a sixth term in office, but that didn’t end the legal woes connected to his tenure in office. Last summer, Arpaio was convicted of contempt of court related to his refusal to obey orders of a Federal District Court Judge regarding the operation of his department. Shortly thereafter, President Trump pardoned Arpaio, thus sparing him from serving any jail time in connection with his sentencing.

Arpaio joins Kelli Ward, who tried to take on John McCain in his last bid for re-election in 2017, in the race for Senator Flake’s seat as well as a small handful of other lesser-known candidates. It is expected, though, that Congresswoman Martha McSally, who represents Arizona’s Second  Congressional District, which includes Tucson and a large segment of the southwestern part of the state. will enter the race as early as later this week and it is expected that she will be the overwhelming choice of the party apparatus as well as Republicans in Washington. Arpaio and Ward, meanwhile, will likely be competing for the same group of voters, meaning that they could potentially divide the far-right segment of the Republican electorate that would provide an opening for McSally to win the plurality needed to win the primary. On the Democratic side, the leading candidate is Congresswoman Krysten Sinema, who represents the state’s 9th Congressional District, which just happens to include Phoenix and a large segment of Maricopa County. Prior to that, Sinema served as a state legislator in both Arizona’s House of Representatives and State Senate.

In any case, Arpaio’s entry into the race, which was rumored ever since he received the pardon from Trump, is likely to draw more national attention to a race that is already considered one of the most important Senate races of 2018.

FILED UNDER: 2018 Election, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Kathy says:

    Arpaio’s main offer to Arizonans: He would support Trump unflinchingly, should he win the nomination and defeat the likely Democratic nominee, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema. That’s not insignificant.

    So he’d be elected to represent Donald Trump in the Senate?

    Not insignificant at all. I can’t recall ever hearing a candidate promise to be a rubber stamp.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    Ah ha ha ha ha ha! Oh, my God, who should I send a contribution too, Arpaio or Ward?

    Heller, Flake and McCain. The three scalps we need to take in order to control of the Senate. Now we just need Bachman to run in Minnesota.

  3. Mikey says:

    Here’s a run-down of all the evil and foul things Arpaio did or oversaw as sheriff. The man is truly abominable.

    And of course Trump pardoned him, and he wants to be Trump’s rubber-stamp toady in the Senate. Birds of a fascist feather.

    It’s Impossible to Overstate How Truly Vile Joe Arpaio Is

  4. CSK says:

    Arpaio will drain off the votes Kelli “Chemtrails” Ward needs in Maricopa County. McSally wins the primary.

  5. Jc says:

    85 years old? Seriously?

  6. Gustopher says:

    Given how even “reasonable” Republicans vote, I favor the obviously insane ones, especially the really, really old obviously insane ones.

    When the Republican Party finally collapses in disgrace, the most obviously insane ones will have a harder time pretending to be reasonable. And the old ones might die, and then there will be open seats again.

    So, go for it Crazy Joe!

  7. Tony W says:

    Preet Bharara had the best line in response.

  8. CSK says:

    @Tony W:

    That was good.

  9. CSK says:

    OT, but Bannon has “stepped down” from Breitbart.

  10. wr says:

    @CSK: :Arpaio will drain off the votes Kelli “Chemtrails” Ward needs in Maricopa County. McSally wins the primary.”

    And Luther Strange wins the Alabama primary.

  11. Teve tory says:

    @CSK: anybody who takes Trump’s side eventually winds up humiliated.

  12. CSK says:


    Nah, this is a different set of circumstances. Chemtrails and Arpaio both really need to win Maricopa, but in this case, they’ll end up splitting the uber-kook vote.

  13. al-Ameda says:

    Has anyone ever checked Arpaio’s bith certificate?

  14. inhumans99 says:

    I suspect that the GOP no longer gets heartburn when someone like Joe Arpaio announces their candidacy because they passed their handout to the rich and do not expect to get serious stuff done going forward so they just shrug their shoulders like the rest of us and say good luck with that Mr. Arpaio.

    Pre-tax cut his announcement would have been an issue but now I suspect that more than a few Republicans will not flip out like the world is ending if Democrats take back the Senate. Heck, it would give plenty of Republicans a juicy target by being able to legitimately blame the Democratic Party for not getting stuff done and MAGA.

    Mr. Arpaio has something in common with Sharon Angle, Richard Mourdock, Todd Akin, Roy Moore, and to a lesser degree Michelle Bachmann, and that is that he is off-putting enough to even hardcore GOPers that he will not get to see the inside of the Capital Building as anything other than a tourist.

  15. Joe says:

    I still get regular Arpaio fund raisers addressed to my 3-years deceased father in Illinois. I guess I can look forward to filling my trash can with more.

  16. An Interested Party says:

    Good grief, was Yosemite Sam unavailable to run? Talk about a gimme for Democrats…

  17. HarvardLaw92 says:

    And, just like that *pouf*, AZ is in play 🙂

  18. Franklin says:

    @Jc: That’s the least of our concerns.

    I hadn’t read a lot about Arpaio until just now. It’s a bit disconcerting that people who loudly profess to believe in “law and order” tend to ignore the laws that apply to themselves. Of course, people who say loudly proclaim themselves to be geniuses are usually incorrect, too. Birds of a feather.

  19. HarvardLaw92,

    It depends on who the GOP nominee is.

    I tend to doubt that the outcome there is going to be anything like what happened in Alabama with Moore and Strange. Martha McSally, who is set to enter the race on Friday, has a particularly strong resume and will likely get the backing of most of the big names in the GOP in the state and nationally. Arpaio, meanwhile, will be fighting with Kelli “Chemtrails” Ward for the far-right wing of the party. Arizona is not Alabama, and I suspect that they won’t have the same kind of influence there that they did in Alabama.

    Another curve ball in all of this could lie in John McCain. His health status is unclear and there’s at least some possibility that he may have to step aside this year, meaning that the state’s Republican Governor would name an interim Senator and that a Special Election would have to be held possibly at the same time as Flake’s seat is up.

  20. James Pearce says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    It depends on who the GOP nominee is.

    Whoever it is, they have a very good chance of filling Flake’s seat.

    I have a feeling that if there was more appetite for a “resistance” type in Arizona, Jeff Flake wouldn’t be leaving. Seems to me that that AL was more favorable territory for the Dems than AZ will be. (AZ, like UT and several other entire states, may be one of those deserts where Dem ideology cannot survive, much less thrive.)

    That said, I’ve long wanted to see how Arpaio would do outside Maricopa County.

  21. dmichael says:

    I despair of our major media: “controversial but iconic?” He is a convicted criminal. He, as a law enforcement officer willfully disobeyed the law. His subsequent pardon does not reverse time. As to Arizona, it is like most western states, in that it contains islands of progressive politics (some urban areas) in an ocean of very conservative politics. Because Arpaio is the representative of the “lock up immigrants and then throw them out” brand of politics, it is entirely possible that he could become the Republican nominee. The issue then would become what will the Democratic Party do about it?

  22. Mister Bluster says:

    @An Interested Party:..Talk about a gimme for Democrats…

    Never Trump…Anyone but Trump…Republican Women for Hillary…
    A lot of good they did.


  23. Matt says:

    @James Pearce:Arpaio was kept afloat as sheriff because of Mesa. In a state wide election he’s toast.

    Trump barely won Maricopa county which is where the vast majority of residents are located. A more amiable person than Clinton running for the Democrats would do far better.