- Senate Republicans were uneasy and skittish about addressing former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Senate bid on Tuesday.
- Following a disastrous special election in Alabama, GOP lawmakers have been more expressive about the need for less controversial, mainstream candidates.
WASHINGTON – Republicans are walking on eggshells following the Senate campaign announcement by the controversial former Maricopa County Sheriff on Tuesday.
Fresh off an upset loss in Alabama’s special election, in which Democrat Doug Jones defeated accused child molester and twice-removed State Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, Senate Republicans were cautious in addressing the candidacy of yet another controversial firebrand.
“I haven’t even seen his announcement today, so it’s premature to talk about anything other than the fact that I think Arizona will be a great opportunity for us in 2018 to hold the Flake seat,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, who is chairing the National Republican Senatorial Committee this cycle.
“I don’t think you can compare what happened with Roy Moore to the actions that people may find controversial in Arizona,” Gardner added. “I think there’s a lot of people who are gonna be running and that’s that.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska shrugged off questions about Arpaio’s candidacy because she has “not ever had the opportunity to meet him.”
“Obviously he’s got a name and a reputation that precedes him, but I think it would be important for me to meet him,” Murkowski said.
Arpaio’s candidacy is controversial because of his past hardline stances on immigrants and Latinos in his jurisdiction as sheriff in the Phoenix, Arizona area. Arpaio was found guilty in 2016 of criminal contempt for violating the terms of a 2011 court order regarding a racial-profiling case, for which President Donald Trump pardoned him.
Because of his controversial record, some Republicans were quick to denounce his campaign in favor of a more palatable candidate.
“Everybody’s got a right to run, but I would hope that the people of Arizona, the voters, would make a wise decision,” said Sen. Richard Shelby, who condemned and voted against Moore last month.
“I suspect it’s gonna be a spirited primary in Arizona,” said Senate Republican Conference Chair John Thune.
“Write about it now because it won’t last long,” said Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, whose seat Arpaio is running for in light of Flake’s retirement announcement.
“He’s talked about this so many times and this is the furthest he’s gone but it won’t last.”
Flake bowed out of running for reelection late last year, but said the seat is “already in jeopardy.” However, Flake noted that while Arpaio’s campaign could merely be a potential scam to raise campaign funds, his presence could split the voting block on the far right, creating a smooth path for GOP Rep. Martha McSally, who is reportedly gearing up to announce her campaign later this week.
“Too little is known,” Flake said.”But I will be extremely surprised if Joe Arpaio was in the race a month from now.”