PHOENIX (AP) — People have been comparing the political styles of President Donald Trump and former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio since the allies starting appearing together at campaign events.
The 85-year-old Arpaio noted those similarities Wednesday, a day after he announced his candidacy for the Senate seat now held by Republican Jeff Flake, a Trump critic who’s not seeking re-election.
They include a focus on immigration enforcement, a knack for getting away with things that would sink the careers of other politicians and a talent for garnering news coverage, Arpaio said.
“Isn’t it great to be compared to the president of the United States?” Arpaio told The Associated Press at his office in a Phoenix suburb.
The former six-term sheriff of metro Phoenix also said he and Trump have both been persecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Arpaio blames the agency for his criminal conviction over intentionally defying a judge’s order to stop traffic patrols that targeted immigrants, though the charge was recommended by the judge.
Trump, who later pardoned Arpaio, has attacked the Justice Department over its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, when the sheriff was voted out of office.
Arpaio’s candidacy injects new uncertainty and attention into the race that’s already among the year’s most watched. He will face another pro-Trump candidate, former state Sen. Kelli Ward, in the GOP primary.
His bid could create an opening for Republican U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, who colleagues have said is planning a Senate run but has not yet made an announcement.
Arpaio said the lack of support for the president’s agenda in Washington inspired him to run but insists he isn’t running on a pro-Trump platform.
“People are not going to vote for me just being pro-Trump,” Arpaio said.
The paperwork from Arpaio’s pardon, which spared him a possible jail sentence when Trump granted it four months ago, is framed on a wall next to his office desk. Bobblehead dolls of Arpaio and Trump stand side by side atop a shelf. And photos of Arpaio with presidents, including Trump and Barack Obama, hang on the walls.
Until now, Ward was considered to be the Republican front-runner. Arpaio’s entry could hurt her chances.
“I think he would just suck up most of her support. He is a much more prominent and visible person, he’s been around so long,” said David Berman, a senior research fellow at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute of Public Policy. “Most people who like Trump generally gravitate toward Arpaio.”
Zachery Henry, a Ward spokesman, said members of the campaign don’t believe Arpaio would split the GOP vote to Ward’s disadvantage.
Ward, who lost a 2016 GOP primary to Sen. John McCain, has been endorsed by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon in her campaign to replace Flake. But she removed his name from her list of endorsements after Trump split with Bannon over comments in a newly published book critical of the president.
Trump posted a favorable tweet about Ward after she visited his Mar-a-Lago, Florida, resort around Christmas, but he has not formally backed her.
McSally has courted Trump’s support in recent months while still presenting herself as middle of the road. She also is seen as a strong GOP contender if she runs.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema also has positioned herself as a moderate candidate.
Arpaio’s announcement led some people to wonder if he is serious about a Senate bid or simply seeking publicity. He flirted with running for governor no fewer than five times over the years before abandoning the idea.
The former lawman, who was known for jailing inmates in outdoor tents during Arizona’s triple-digit summer heat and forcing them to wear pink underwear, said supporters urged him to seek public office again despite his crushing 2016 re-election defeat to a little-known Phoenix police sergeant.
Arpaio said he would accept a Trump endorsement but wouldn’t seek it. He also said the president had not asked him to run for the Senate.
“If I go to my grave, I don’t think I’d be happy if I didn’t take the shot to run,” Arpaio said.