No one ever considered a potential Democratic Senate pick-up in the deep red state of Alabama — that is, until the Alabama GOP gave its party nomination to former judge and fringe right-wing candidate Roy Moore. Now, it’s possible that the left could see another big win in a red state with the announcement that Sheriff Joe Arpaio hopes to replace Republican Senator Jeff Flake.
Sheriff Joe, best known for his abuse of prisoners in his Maricopa County jails, his birther conspiracy theories and his rabid, rabid anti-immigration stance, stated on Tuesday that he will run in the GOP primary to replace Flake, who is not running for re-election.
“I have a lot to offer. I’m a big supporter of President Trump,” Arpaio told the Washington Examiner. “I’m going to have to work hard; you don’t take anything for granted. But I would not being doing this if I thought that I could not win. I’m not here to get my name in the paper, I get that everyday, anyway.”
Arpaio’s announcement is likely to have the biggest impact on Kelli Ward, another Tea Party GOP extremist planning to run for the party nomination. But it will also ripple out to Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally, who the party viewed as the most favorable general election candidate for the ticket.
Arpaio complicates the lessons the Republicans may have learned in Alabama about choosing a fringe nominee over a more “moderate” opponent, too. While President Trump expressed support for the more traditional candidate, Senator Luther Strange — an endorsement that still couldn’t help Strange win the primary — Trump will be hard pressed not to back Arpaio, who the president pardoned for ignoring a federal court order forbidding him from racial profiling Arizona residents.
For the GOP, a candidate who trumpets his relationship with Trump as a key facet of his campaign could cause massive damage to whichever candidate emerges from the primary as the winner — even if that winner is McSally.
“Even if Arpaio loses the primary to McSally, he would have had seven months to push her to the right and define GOP messaging on a host of issues — and not just in Arizona,” the Washington Examiner suggests. “Trump is sure to promote Arpaio’s campaign, and Republican primary candidates all over the country might follow his lead.”
While the Arizona Republicans are about as far-right and socially conservative as they come — with an added mix of anti-immigrant xenophobia and straight-out racism in some cases — the general Arizona population is far less extreme. The president won Arizona by a mere 4 points in 2016, and the population is about 15 percent Latino. Arpaio has a very strong likelihood of winning his primary — and losing dramatically once the general election comes along.
Thanks to the Alabama special election win, Democrats trail Republicans in the Senate by just two seats. A flip in Arizona would tie the parties, and as primary contenders continue to move the party to the right, the odds are improving that the final seat could happen.
While former presidential contender Mitt Romney may be willing to campaign in a safe Republican state like Utah, more challenging states are having a hard time finding appealing Republicans to run at all.
In Ohio, Republican State Treasurer Josh Mandel just announced that he is discontinuing his challenge to sitting Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown, claiming family illness is taking priority over his run. But is it really a health crisis? Or is it the probability of a Democratic wave that has him hoping to avoid an embarrassing defeat that has caused Mandel to postpone? Regardless, the party is now scrambling to find absolutely anyone who can file in the next month to take on Brown — including a right-wing author with no political experience at all.
Despite control of all branches of the government and major leads, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the GOP is going to squander all of their political capital in the 2018 midterms, likely putting one — if not both — chambers of Congress back in Democratic control.
Arpaio’s newly announced run? That’s just the latest indication of exactly how far the Republican Party has fallen.