Well, well, well. After a lifetime of claiming he might run for higher office but never once going through with it, disgraced former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio finally pulled the trigger on a statewide bid with his announcement that he'd seek Arizona's open Senate seat this year. But there's still plenty of reason to believe that this time is a little different from the five separate elections in which Arpaio flirted with a bid for governor—that is to say, it's a way to line Arpaio's pockets—and the most compelling evidence comes from the man himself.
In an email to supporters on Tuesday morning, the 85-year-old Arpaio averred that his financial situation is modest, claiming that he's merely "a retired public servant living on a retired public servant's salary." A tough life! Won't you please spare a dime? Indeed, his bank account may be looking a bit slimmer after his long fight against criminal contempt of court charges, for which he was alarmingly pardoned by Donald Trump last year. But the best summary comes from The Hill reporter Scott Wong:
Of course, most retirees don't earn a "salary" at all, or even a pension, if that's what Arpaio means. He's also not exactly a "retiree," either: After two decades cementing his reputation as one of America's most venal and abusive lawmen, Arpaio got destroyed by Democrat Paul Penzone by a 56-44 margin in 2016, even as Trump carried Maricopa County 48-45. That's a hell of a lot of baggage to schlep into a Senate race.
Still, Arpaio retains his fervent, immigrant-hating fans among the GOP base—including Trump himself—and his name recognition is close to universal, so he definitely could win the Republican nomination even if he just phones in (or email$ in) his campaign. The instant conventional wisdom says that his entry would hurt former state Sen. Kelli Ward the most, since she'd pursue the same contingent of furious Trump-lovers. Likewise, this school of thought holds, it ought to help the more establishment Rep. Martha McSally, who's reportedly been planning to run for months and just sent out invitations to a series of "special announcements" that will take place in major cities around the state on Friday.
But as the New York Times' Alex Burns notes, the same argument was supposed to help now-former Alabama Sen. Luther Strange, who also faced two, ah, "exotic" opponents in his own primary. If anything, Arpaio is likely to create real problems for McSally: Ward's candidacy is apt to shrivel now, while Arpaio would almost certainly start out ahead—perhaps well ahead—of McSally in any poll. (Ward led McSally in multiple polls last year, and Arpaio > Ward.) It would be an ugly mess for the GOP, assuming McSally goes through with it. (Speculation abounds that she's instead hoping to be appointed to Arizona's other Senate seat if John McCain is unable to finish his term.)
And if Arpaio does emerge as his party's nominee and winds up having to defend this seat against Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema … well, that would be a race all too perfectly suited for these distressing times.