MARICOPA COUNTY, Ariz. — Arizona Sheriff Joseph M. Arpaio, who has earned a national reputation for his hard line and tough tactics on illegal immigration, said Monday he will not run for the Republican nomination for governor, despite his widespread popularity among conservative voters.
The 77-year-old Maricopa County sheriff said he declined to run largely because of his commitment to residents and his concerns about whom the board of supervisors might appoint as interim sheriff.
"I am humbled by the encouragement," he said. "However ... we are standing in the cross-hairs of history in this state. And as sheriff of the most populous county in Arizona, there is much work yet to be done."
He said the board's choice might set the county on a path that voters would find "extremely displeasing."
Sheriff Arpaio, who has toyed with entering politics before, likely would have been the instant front-runner in the polls ahead of the Aug. 24 primary that includes incumbent Republican Gov. Jan Brewer.
But entering the race so late and defeating Ms. Brewer would have been a challenge, considering the bump in her support following her decision last month to sign what is widely regarded as the nation's toughest immigration-enforcement law.
"I doubt he can win," Arizona Democratic Party spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson said Monday before the sheriff made his decision known. "He talks a very good game, but it's a lot of dishing out over-the-top sound bites. I think voters are looking for a more serious candidate who understands the state's serious issues."
Still, the sheriff has $2.3 million in the bank for his 2012 re-election campaign that he could have used for a gubernatorial run.
Ms. Brewer now leads all candidates in the polls and has moved four percentage points ahead of likely Democrat candidate state Attorney General Terry Goddard, according to a new Rasmussen Reports phone survey.
State Democratic officials said they are skeptical of the Rasmussen report and predict a close race.
As Sheriff Arpaio neared a decision, his choice was being closely watched in Arizona. Already, the Republican Senate primary between incumbent Sen. John McCain and challenger ex-Rep. J.D. Hayworth has focused heavily on the state's illegal-immigration problem.
"People want me to run for governor, everyday, around the nation," the sheriff said at a news conference.
To be sure, Sheriff Arpaio has a national profile - elevated in part by such tactics as organizing civilian posses and issuing pink underwear to inmates in Maricopa County, whose county seat is Phoenix.
His approach to policing also has attracted both ardent supporters and harsh critics. The Obama administration's Justice Department last year began an investigation that included looking into charges of racial profiling and illegal searches and seizures within the county sheriff's office.
The state Republican party did not return a call for comment.
While Sheriff Arpaio's decision deprives the 2010 midterm elections of one colorful entry, another took the plunge Monday in Ohio.
Copyright 2010 Washington Times