Senate Republicans aren’t exactly eager to discuss former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s (R) newly declared Senate campaign.
Arpaio, a deeply controversial former Maricopa County sheriff who President Trump pardoned after Arpaio was convicted of contempt of court for refusing to obey a court order to stop racial profiling, announced Tuesday that he’ll run for the Senate.
“There’ll be a lot of people running in Arizona,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Cory Gardner (R-CO) told TPM Tuesday.
That’s more than others were willing to say.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) simply shook her head when TPM asked her thoughts about Arpaio’s candidacy.
“I think I’ll stick to my own situation,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), who may face a primary of his own, told TPM.
Many others begged off as they entered Senate lunches less than two hours after Arpaio made his announcement.
“I hadn’t seen the news yet,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT). “I’m sure it’ll be a crowded primary.”
“Let me understand the story before I comment on the story,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS).
“In fairness, I have not ever had the opportunity to meet him. Obviously he’s got a name and a reputation that precedes him, but I think it’d be important for me to meet him,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said when asked if she would be happy to serve with the controversial figure.
It’s unclear how serious Arpaio is about a bid — or whether his candidacy could actually help Republicans hold the seat, as he might split the hard-right pro-Trump vote with former state Sen. Kelli Ward (R) and open up Rep. Martha McSally’s (R-AZ) path to the nomination.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), the seat’s current occupant, was dismissive of Arpaio’s intentions.
“Write about it fast, it won’t last long,” he joked, shaking his head when asked if he thought Arpaio was serious about a campaign.
Flake wasn’t the only one who predicted Arpaio wouldn’t actually be make it to the late August primary. Multiple Arizona Republicans speculated it was just a way for the limelight-loving 85-year-old to get back on camera after losing his reelection last fall (and for his consultants to rake in the cash).
“This is someone that’s just starving for attention and consultants who are more than happy to engage in a money grab,” said one senior GOP consultant not affiliated with any campaign.
But whether or not Arpaio is the eventual nominee, he could further create headaches for the party in the wake of an embarrassing loss in Alabama, where accused child molester Roy Moore lost a Senate race last month in spite of backing from Trump and the national party. His also complicates how Trump’s team might handle the race, just days after Trump promised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) he’d back incumbents and help him hold the majority.
The race is one of Democrats’ two best pickup opportunities besides Nevada. They need to defend all of their own seats and pick up two to win back Senate control — a tough challenge as they’re defending 10 seats in states Trump won last year, but one that looks increasingly possible after Alabama and in light of Trump’s terrible numbers.
Democrats are excited about their likely nominee, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) — and think she would crush either Ward or Arpaio.
“I think Kyrsten Sinema is going to be my colleague,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) said, calling Arpaio “another Republican candidate who is hurting our democracy, hurting the Republican Party and clearly someone who has hurt a lot of people.”
The White House declined to weigh in on Arpaio’s campaign on Tuesday.
“I can’t comment on the specifics of any election, voicing support for a candidate in a race like that. I’m not going to weigh in to the details of that race or make comments on something that would affect that front,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
It remains to be seen whether Arpaio will seriously pursue this race. But the octogenarian’s attempted comeback isn’t exactly thrilling his potential future colleagues.