Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio Expands His Political Wings

Ashley Powers, Los Angeles Times, September 12, 2010

In recent months, Sheriff Joe Arpaio has tried to extend his political reach outside his home state of Arizona, where he has gained national notoriety for lightning-rod tactics to root out illegal immigrants.

With Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, SB 1070, rekindling national interest in border security, Arpaio has appeared in Kentucky and Kansas and elsewhere as an emblem of a stern law-and-order approach. On Sunday, he is scheduled to speak at a Republican lunch in the key primary state of New Hampshire, which has led some observers to wonder if he’s considering a presidential bid.

Last week Arpaio waded into the high-profile Nevada Senate race, cheering on Republican Sharron Angle, a “tea party” favorite locked in a tight contest with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

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Arpaio has recently been touting the power of his support, saying it carried more weight than that of Republican Sen. John McCain, at least in Arizona. Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, won reelection in 2008 with 55% of the vote.

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He has been testing his political strength outside the Grand Canyon State by supporting candidates for Michigan governor, California Assembly and congressional seats in Florida and Missouri, among others. His political advisor, Chad Willems, said a number of GOP candidates have sought the sheriff’s backing, though his track record out of state has been less successful than in Arizona.

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Though his endorsement of California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner made little difference in the state’s GOP gubernatorial primary–Meg Whitman won–his backing has been highly coveted in strongly Republican legislative districts, said Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the nonpartisan California Target Book.

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Reid and Angle hold polar-opposite views on immigration, as they do on many issues. Though in 1993 Reid supported a bill that would have denied citizenship to children of undocumented immigrants, he later called it the “biggest mistake I ever made.”

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