(EDITOR’S NOTE, 8/31/18, 5:07 PM ET: This article has been updated to account for new vote totals.)
“They seem to have forgotten me,” former Sheriff and failed Senate hopeful Joe Arpaio said in a Monday interview with the New York Times, as he gazed at a portrait of Donald Trump in his campaign office outside Phoenix, Arizona.
And they did. At 11:59 PM ET, the Associated Press declared Rep. Martha McSally (R-Arizona) the winner of the Republican primary to replace retiring Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona). As of 5 PM Eastern Time on Friday, Arpaio only pulled 18.9 percent of the vote with 95 percent of precincts reporting. County-by-county results from the New York Times show that Arpaio also finished last in his home county of Maricopa, getting less than one-third of the votes McSally got in the same county.
BREAKING: Rep. Martha McSally beats Kelli Ward and Joe Arpaio in a three-way Republican primary for Arizona’s open US Senate seat, will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema in November. https://t.co/1fTkIuiC7S
— AP Politics (@AP_Politics) August 29, 2018
In the state that long supported the late Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), Arpaio refusing to call McCain a “hero” but rather saving that adoration for President Trump did him no favors. There was no love lost between McCain and Arpaio. After all, McCain blasted Trump for pardoning Arpaio last year.
Joe Arpaio was, for a long time, seen as the ultimate immigration hard-liner in the law enforcement community. He was convicted of contempt (a misdemeanor) for refusing to stop detaining people on suspicion of being undocumented — a conviction that later got pardoned by Donald Trump just over one year ago.
But his track record runs far more deeply. Arpaio revived the practice of chain gangs, engaged in racial profiling and created a living hell for prisoners in his custody as Sheriff of Maricopa County. He emphatically agreed with a 2015 statement from Donald Trump saying Mexico sent “rapists” across the border.
“Yeah, we got a lot of rapists from Mexico,” he said. “When you look up the jails I ran in those days, 18 percent are Hispanic murderers and everything else.”
Joe Arpaio once constructed a massive open-air prison outside Phoenix called Tent City, made of surplus Korean War tents. Arpaio himself called his prison a “concentration camp,” which he later denied. Tent City also served as a blueprint for migrant detention facilities that sprung up over the summer.
“The powerlessness Arpaio’s feeling — well, now the shoe’s on the other foot, isn’t it?” said Arizona Center for Empowerment’s Executive Director Alejandra Gomez. “Latinos suffered for a long time at his hand, but it turned out to be a call to action.”
Arpaio thinks that characterization of him is unfair.
“Me? I’m not a racist,” he said in his Times interview. “Just yesterday I must have had 20 pictures taken with Hispanics from here to Yuma.”
The surging of Republican senate candidates like Kelli Ward and Rep. McSally in polls (with McSally leading by as much as 20 points in an ABC 15/OH Predictive Insights poll conducted just two weeks ago) was an early predictor of Arpaio’s bad primary showing. His opponents’ popularity may have been what pushed him to do an ill-advised interview with Sacha Baron Cohen — who was disguised as a YouTube celebrity named OMGWhizzboyOMG — in which the former sheriff said he would accept an “amazing blow job” from President Trump.
The tale of a man elected Sheriff in 1992, convicted of criminal contempt and pardoned in 2017 and tossing his hat into the ring in a 2018 Senate race ended in a whimper Tuesday. But his legacy lives on in a surprising way: Arizona’s Democrats.
“We’re getting closer to flipping Arizona,” Gomez said. She’s led an effort to register 200,000 new voters this year. “And we have Joe Arpaio to thank for much of this momentum.”
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.