It had seemed as if Joe Arpaio’s political career was over.
In November 2016, after more than two decades of winning elections as sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., he was defeated handily by a Democrat. Then, in July of last year, he was convicted of criminal contempt for violating a federal court order to stop racially profiling Latinos.
But President Trump offered him a pass, pardoning Arpaio in August.
Now, the 85-year-old Arpaio is back — and wants to head to Congress.
On Tuesday, Arpaio announced he would seek the Arizona Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Jeff Flake. Arpaio enters a crowded Republican field and is likely to face a barrage of attacks from Democrats and civil rights groups, who are sure to note in campaign advertisements how the policing practices he championed have led to dozens of lawsuits.
In a statement, Arpaio said he was running “for one unwavering reason: to support the agenda and policies of President Donald Trump in his mission to Make America Great Again.”
Last summer, Trump said of Arpaio, a military veteran before becoming sheriff, that “after more than 50 years of admirable service to our nation, he is [a] worthy candidate for a presidential pardon.”
Arpaio enters a race that includes former state Sen. Kelli Ward, a provocative figure in the far-right movement whose candidacy is backed by Stephen K. Bannon, a former senior advisor to the president whose relationship has soured in recent weeks. (On Tuesday, Bannon was fired from his position as head of the right-wing website Breitbart News.)
Trump has offered no formal endorsement, but he has hinted his support for Ward’s candidacy. A request for comment from the White House on Tuesday about Arpaio’s Senate bid was not immediately returned.
For Arpaio, his quest for not only the Republican nomination but a general-election matchup with Democrats is an uphill battle.
Two years ago, Democrat Paul Penzone, who raked in support from the state’s growing Latino population upset over their treatment by Arpaio and his deputies, bested Arpaio.
Recently, Arizona has experienced fast growth in its Latino electorate, with a projected 1.3 million Latino eligible voters in 2016 — up from 796,000 in 2008, according to the Pew Research Center. That number is expected to increase in this year’s midterm election, which could help Democrats flip what has been a reliably red state in Arizona.
Alejandra Gomez, co-executive director of the Arizona-based Living United for Change in Arizona, an immigrant rights group, said Tuesday she had heard “outrage and anger” from Latinos in the state over Apraio’s entrance into the Senate race.
“It’s disgusting,” Gomez said. “We’re ready to launch a statewide campaign specifically against his candidacy.… Voters made their voice clear in 2016, and voters will speak again.”
For Arpaio, it was his roughly quarter-century as sheriff of Maricopa County — which includes all of Phoenix — that gave him a national reputation for his tough treatment of people suspected of being in the country illegally. Repeated court rulings against his office for civil rights violations cost local taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.
In the early 1990s, Arpaio directed construction of a tent city for inmates, a measure he said was intended both to alleviate overcrowding and to underscore his aggressive enforcement measures. But it was open to the burning Arizona sun and drew widespread criticism. Last year, the tent city was closed.
After Trump entered the presidential race in July 2015, Arpaio invited him to Phoenix to talk about a crackdown on illegal immigration. He endorsed Trump just before the first votes in the Iowa caucuses in 2016, and frequently spoke out on behalf of Trump’s campaign. Whether Trump will return the favor will be closely watched in the months ahead.