For GOP Maricopa County Sheriff primary, a close race between Joe Arpaio and Jerry Sheridan

A day after Arizona's primary election, the Republic primary for Maricopa County Sheriff is still too close to call, with former sheriff Joe Arpaio is running a few hundred votes behind the frontrunner, Jerry Sheridan.

Should Arpaio win the GOP nomination, it will set the stage for a rematch between him and incumbent Sheriff Paul Penzone.

Should Arpaio lose, however, it would mark his third electoral defeat in the past four years. In addition to his loss in 2016, state figures show he came in third, behind Martha McSally and Kelli Ward, in the 2018 GOP Senate primary.

McSally was defeated by Kyrsten Sinema in that year's election for a Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake. She was then appointed to the seat formerly held by the late Senator John McCain, and is facing Democratic challenger Mark Kelly in a race to finish out McCain's term. The winner would face reelection to a full six-year term in 2022 to keep the seat.

Arpaio known for long tenure, as well as controversies

Tent City ((From Archive))

Arpaio held the job for 24 years but was ousted by voters in 2016. Arpaio, 88, became something of a celebrity sheriff during his decades on the job. Fighting illegal immigration and drugs were his priorities, while Tent City (which has been closed down) and pink underwear became his personal stamp on crime.

Arpaio’s political liabilities have been piling up for years and include $147 million in taxpayer-funded legal costs, a failure to investigate more than 400 sex-crime complaints made to the sheriff’s office and launching criminal investigations against judges, politicians and others who were at odds with him.

In addition, Arpaio was accused of racially profiling Hispanics during immigration raids. He was eventually pardoned by President Donald Trump.

Support of Trump a centerpiece for Arpaio campaign

Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio ((From Archive))

Arpaio based much of his campaign around his support of Trump. During his campaign, Arpaio vowed to bring back practices that the courts have either deemed illegal or his successor has ended, including his trademark immigration crackdowns and use of jail tents in the Arizona heat.

"When I go home tonight and look in the mirror, I can say I gave it everything. I gave it all," said Arpaio.

For many, the name "Arpaio" and the title "sheriff" still go together. Even though he hasn’t held the seat for several years, he’s still the same old Joe.

"I am the toughest sheriff you know why. Tell you why because I locked up so many tons of drugs come across the border into this county, and illegal immigration, thousands and thousands I locked up," said Arpaio.

Arpaio acknowledges changing electorate

An Arpaio campaign sign

Arpaio said he hasn’t been garnering media attention like he used to, and many voters didn’t know he was trying to get his old job back until they saw his name on their ballots. He insists he is good health, even though his critics have made his age an issue in the race. If he were to win and serve a full four-year term, Arpaio would be approaching his 93rd birthday.

Arpaio acknowledged that he’s facing a different type of voter than he did four years ago. 

“There is a lot of consternation going on in our nation,” Arpaio said Wednesday. “You know it. I know it. It’s a different ball game in this country and this county. But I still think I will be able to pull this out.”

Former right-hand man in contention for nomination

Jerry Sheridan

As for the man who is ahead in votes as of the afternoon of August 5, Jerry Sheridan was Joe Arpaio’s right-hand man for many years.

Sheridan began as 18-year-old volunteer, and he held many other positions within MCSO, shy of sheriff. In fact, Sheridan was even caught up in the same scandals as his former boss.

Now, Sheridan hopes he was able to separate and overcome the name recognition of a man he once called mentor and friend, this time, to do it his way.

“I’m not Joe Arpaio. I’m Jerry Sheridan, a 32-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office," said Sheridan. "Hundreds of employees asked me to run. That’s why after 32 years and two years of retirement, I decided to throw my hat in the ring."

Sheridan didn’t expect the primary to be so close. He said his campaign lost some of its momentum when the pandemic forced the end of in-person campaign events. He also pointed out that Arpaio has spent about $1 million in the race, compared to Sheridan’s $90,000.

“It’s so much more, and I’m beating him,” Sheridan said of Arpaio’s fundraising advantage. “And he’s the one with the 100% name recognition, not me.”

Pollster analyzes Sheriff's race

Mike O’Neil, a longtime Arizona pollster who has followed Arpaio’s career, said the lawman remains in contention because he has strong name recognition and is still popular in some Republican circles — even though he was trounced in 2016 and finished third in the 2018 U.S. Senate primary.

“It’s no longer the large swell of people it once was, but there are folks who still get worked up over immigration,” O’Neil said.

O’Neil believes Arpaio and Sheridan would both get “whooped” by the more low-profile Penzone in the November general election.

Penzone issues statement

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone

Sheriff Penzone, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary for sheriff, issued a statement that reads:

"As Sheriff of Maricopa County, I have removed politics and focused on restoring the Office to an ethical, professional, and transparent organization. I have been committed to a foundation of integrity, with an unwavering focus on public safety."

Election results

The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report

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