SCOTTSDALE, Arizona (AP) - Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio was asking dozens of tea party activists for their backing in Arizona’s Republican Senate primary when one audience member said it was a shame disgruntled conservatives couldn’t send “both of you” to Washington.
The man wasn’t just talking about Arpaio, but the other Arizona conservative icon who was there that night promoting her rival Senate campaign, former state Sen. Kelli Ward. The room burst into applause at the remark, which sums up the dilemma facing Arizona’s boisterous conservatives - their hearts are split between two candidates in the primary. That divide could pave the way for the more moderate candidate, Rep. Martha McSally.
Up for grabs is the seat held by Sen. Jeff Flake, who is retiring after being pummeled by his initial primary challenger, Ward. She has accused Flake of being too soft on immigration and not supportive enough of President Donald Trump.
Arpaio, pardoned by Trump last year after being convicted of contempt of court in a racial profiling case, roiled the race in January by jumping in. He has raised only $500,000, the least among the three major Republicans.
“Whoever convinced Joe to run didn’t do the movement any favors,” said Constantine Querard, an Arizona conservative strategist who has long been friendly toward Arpaio but backs Ward, “because the movement has a tremendous affection for Joe, but he splits the movement.”
Chuck Coughlin, a more centrist Arizona Republican strategist, is more blunt about Arpaio: “He’s not in it to win it, he’s just in it to keep Kelli Ward from winning.”
The frustration over the two candidates splitting the conservative vote spilled into the open this week, when Arpaio’s campaign alleged that Ward’s camp offered the former sheriff a job with a pro-Trump superPAC if he dropped out of the race. The Ward campaign denies it made the offer.
Arpaio, 85, said the offer was offensive. “I don’t like to be intimidated by anyone,” the former six-term sheriff said in an interview. “It’s no secret that a lot of people want me out of the race. My response is I’m not leaving.”
Arpaio gained notoriety for his outdoor “tent city” jail in which inmates wore pink underwear, his tendency to launch investigations of political critics and his crackdown on illegal immigration, which a judge ruled in 2013 amounted to racial profiling by his department as it routinely stopped Hispanics to check on their immigration status. Arpaio’s agency continued the practice against the judge’s orders. Arpaio then lost the 2016 election and was convicted of contempt of court....If