Maricruz Ramirez can’t even vote, but she’s doing everything she can to get others to turn out on Election Day to defeat Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
An illegal immigrant from Mexico, Ms. Ramirez led a group of immigrant rights activists Saturday as they went door to door, hoping to find young or infrequent voters they could entice to turn out, emboldened by the prospect of taking out the Republican lawman who’s been dubbed “America’s Toughest Sheriff.”
This could well be the year.
After cruising to election in his first five races, Sheriff Arpaio barely topped 50 percent of the vote in a three-way race in 2012, and Paul Penzone–the Democrat who was part of that three-way race the last time–is leading the sheriff in the latest polling this year. In fact, it’s not even close: An Arizona State University/Arizona Republic poll released last week put Mr. Penzone at 45.9 percent support and Sheriff Arpaio at just 31.1 percent.
Some analysts have questioned that poll’s sample–and the timing. It was taken just as the Justice Department announced it was pursuing criminal contempt charges against the sheriff, accusing him of continuing racial profiling against Hispanics despite a court settlement that ordered him to cease.
Sheriff Arpaio calls the accusations “a bunch of garbage” and said it wasn’t a coincidence the charges were announced the day early voting started. He said his opponents, ranging from the Obama administration to billionaire liberal crusader George Soros and immigration activists, are pulling out all the stops to defeat him.
There are hundreds of thousands of voters who have literally never known another sheriff in their lives. The Census Bureau in 1990–two years before the sheriff’s first election victory–put the county’s population at 2.1 million. Today it stands at 4.2 million, making it the nation’s fourth-largest.
The Hispanic population has grown even faster, from 345,000 in 1990 to 1.3 million now–or nearly a third of the county’s residents.
“Some people in this state have lived their entire lives with Arpaio as sheriff. We are about to knock his ass out,” said Marisa Franco, one of the leaders of Bazta Arpaio, the immigrant rights groups’ effort to unseat the sheriff.
Some 200,000 residents turned 18 since the last sheriff’s election, and this year alone the groups say more than 150,000 Hispanics have registered to vote–nearly twice the sheriff’s 80,000-vote margin of victory in the last election.
Where a decade ago illegal immigrants were likely to remain in the shadows, hundreds of thousands have stepped forward, protected by Mr. Obama’s deportation policies, and made their voices heard.