Notorious former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio running for U.S. Senate

Joe Arpaio, the criminally convicted Arizona sheriff whose approach to immigration and prison administration was widely criticized and legally contentious, has announced he is running for the U.S. Senate.

Arpaio, subject of controversial Trump pardon, also promoted Obama birther conspiracy

In this Feb. 4, 2009, file photo, then Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, left, gestures toward about 200 convicts handcuffed together at Tent City. (Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press)

Joe Arpaio, the criminally convicted Arizona sheriff whose approach to immigration and prison administration was widely criticized and legally contentious, announced on Tuesday he is running for the U.S. Senate.

The Washington Examiner first reported the candidacy, citing an interview with Arpaio, and the former lawman confirmed it on his social media account.

Arpaio said on Twitter he would be "unwavering" in his support of the agenda of Donald Trump, who issued a controversial pardon on his behalf last year.

Arpaio, who turns 86 in June, will try to fill the seat left by Jeff Flake. The Republican Flake has criticized Trump's brand of politics in his final months in office.

The self-proclaimed "America's Toughest Sheriff" was first elected as Maricopa County Sheriff in 1993 and served six terms despite being a lightning rod for critics. He was defeated on the same day that saw Trump elected president.

Arpaio, who campaigned for Trump in 2016, was convicted on July 31 of last year. A judge ruled he had willfully violated a 2011 injunction barring his officers from stopping and detaining Latino motorists solely on suspicion that they were in the country illegally.

He faced time in jail, but Trump just days later issued a pardon. The president said the prosecution was politically motivated.

"Sheriff Joe is a patriot," Trump said when asked about the pardon. "Sheriff Joe loves our country. Sheriff Joe protected our borders."

Donald Trump's pardon of controversial Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio has deepened the divide within the Republican Party and the rest of the country. 2:00

The pardon was criticized in D.C. and Arizona.

"Pardoning Joe Arpaio is a slap in the face to the people of Maricopa County, especially the Latino community and those he victimized as he systematically and illegally violated their civil rights," Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said at the time.

Arpaio admitted to inadvertently disobeying the court order but said his behaviour did not meet a criminal standard. He said the prosecution was a politically motivated attempt by the Barack Obama administration to undermine his re-election bid.

Arpaio was arguably the biggest public figure aside from Trump to question where Obama was born.

Trump said Arpaio would have won again in 2016 had the filing of charges not influenced voters.

Arpaio lost by six percentage points in the election to Paul Penzone, who soon announced the closure of one of his predecessor's hallmarks, the outdoor "Tent City" camp which saw inmates subjected to Arizona's stifling temperatures.

In addition, inmates at the camps were assigned pink underwear and placed in chain gangs. Restricted movies, adult magazines, soap operas and coffee were among items and activities banned, seen by Arpaio as perks.

Publicity bid or serious candidate?

Legal battles involving Arpaio's actions were estimated to have cost Arizona taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, and citizens on more than one occasion unsuccessfully launched recall bids. The outdoor prison approach was also estimated by experts and Penzone to be costing the state more money than necessary.

Arpaio and Flake have also clashed, with Flake's son unsuccessfully suing the former sheriff for malicious prosecution.

Local immigrants rights organizations gather to protest in Phoenix, Ariz., on Aug. 25 after former sheriff Arpaio was pardoned by President Donald Trump. (Caitlin O'Hara/Reuters)

Jurors just last month ruled against Austin Flake and his then-wife Logan Brown in their lawsuit stemming from Arpaio's investigation into the heat-exhaustion deaths of 21 dogs at a kennel operated by Flake's in-laws. Flake and Brown, who were in college at the time, were caring for the dogs while the in-laws were out of town.

All told, there were will be 34 Senate contests in 2018. Democrats are incumbents in 24 of those, not including Angus King (Maine) and Bernie Sanders (Vermont), who caucus with the Democrats. The 24 states include 10 which were carried by Trump in the 2016 general election.

The Republicans will field new candidates in at least three of the eight seats up for election that they currently hold, with Bob Corker (Tennessee) and Orrin Hatch (Utah) also announcing they won't seek another term.

Arpaio might be hard pressed to just secure his party's nomination, let alone win the November contest against the eventual Democratic candidate, even if Trump endorses his candidacy. Former state senator Kelli Ward among the confirmed Republican candidates, where current U.S. congresswoman Marth McSally is holding a news conference on Friday, where it is expected she will announce a Senate run.

With files from The Associated Press

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