Joe Arpaio, the controversial Arizona lawman who calls himself "America's Toughest Sheriff," said Monday he is open to a run for Senate in 2012 in the wake of a poll that found him to be the leading Republican contender.
Arpaio, the Maricopa County sheriff best known for his aggressive efforts to capture illegal immigrants, said "the door is open right now" to a run, as The Hill reports, though he said he was not sure he wanted to leave his job as sheriff.
The comments came in the wake of a release of a poll conducted by Summit Consulting Group that found Arpaio to be the leading candidate to replace retiring Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl. Arpaio had 21 percent support among likely Republican primary voters, followed by Rep. Jeff Flake (who ) at 16.8 percent and former Rep. J.D. Hayworth at 16.6 percent. Former Rep. John Shadegg came in fourth at 12 percent, and freshman Rep. Ben Quayle fifth at six percent.
The poll should be seen skeptically for three reasons. First, early polling usually doesn't matter all that much, and tends to reward name recognition. Second, the poll was conducted using auto-dialing, a method CBS News believes yields subpar results. And third, it was conducted by a company that is raising money for Arpaio's reelection campaign for sheriff and employs Arpaio's campaign manager. (The company also has done work for Flake, and one principle was a Hayworth advisor.)
Still, the survey has provided an opportunity for Arpaio, who has flirted with gubernatorial bids in the past, to get his name in the mix for the Senate seat.
Arpaio was sued by the Justice Department last year for refusing to turn over records being sought as part of an investigation into whether his office discriminates against Hispanics. He has instituted policies similar to Arizona's controversial (and mostly suspended) immigration law, and is known for immigration sweeps in Hispanic areas, workplace raids and, according to critics, running an office in which skin color is a basis for questioning citizens. He was separately investigated for abusing his powers by intimidating country workers.
Arpaio has also attracted media attention for building tent cities for inmates, for instituting chain gangs and for making prisoners wear pink underwear.
"No wonder Sheriff Arpaio has been profiled in over 2,000 U.S. and foreign newspapers, magazines, and TV news programs," his website says. "His leadership and the excellent work of his staff have catapulted the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office into the ranks of elite law enforcement agencies."