Pinal County Sheriff Babeu considering run for House

by Daniel González – Oct. 24, 2011 10:11 PM
The Arizona Republic

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, who quickly rose to national prominence as a leading advocate of tough border security and immigration enforcement and more recently gained attention as a sharp critic of President Barack Obama’s administration over the “Fast and Furious” gun-smuggling scandal, announced Monday that he is considering running for Congress.

Babeu is the first Republican to announce that he may run in a redrawn district that is expected to cover most of rural western Arizona and is expected to heavily favor Republicans. The congressional map is being redrawn as part of the decennial redistricting process.

• Text of Babeu’s press release

Babeu said Monday that he has created an exploratory committee, allowing him to raise and spend money for a possible run in the revamped District 4, where no incumbent has announced plans to run.

Babeu then immediately hit the local media circuit, making appearances on several television and radio news shows, where he continued to blast the Obama administration over the Fast and Furious scandal, border security, high unemployment and the weak economy.

“He’s really concerned about the future of the country and the direction of the country right now and the trust that has been broken between the people and the government in Washington, D.C.,” said Chris DeRose, who is leading Babeu’s exploratory committee.

His formation of an exploratory committee does not come as a surprise. For months, his name has circulated as a possible congressional candidate.

DeRose said Babeu plans to announce in January whether he will run.

By waiting until after Jan. 1, Babeu, who was elected sheriff in 2008, would not have to give up his post to run for Congress under Arizona’s resign-to-run law, said Matthew Roberts, a spokesman for the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office.

Babeu’s announcement comes less than three weeks after the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission adopted a draft of the state’s 2012 election map, including the addition of a ninth congressional district, which will be created to reflect the state’s population growth.

The commission is still taking public comment on the map, which is not final.

The district in which Babeu is exploring a run includes parts of at least six current districts. It covers the northern part of Pinal County, wraps around the Valley and sprawls across most of western Arizona.

U.S. Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., lives in the district as it is currently drawn. Schweikert, however, has already said he will run in the proposed district that includes Scottsdale and Paradise Valley.

Should Babeu decide to run, he would be a “formidable” candidate because of his early entry and his statewide name recognition – even if he is mostly associated with a single issue, said Bruce Merrill, a political expert and professor emeritus at Arizona State University.

“First out of the blocks and high name recognition with a very important issue puts him in pretty good stead,” Merrill said.

The challenge will be Babeu’s ability to raise money for a successful campaign, which Merrill estimated will cost between $1 million and $1.5 million.

“I think the key for the sheriff is whether he can leverage his more national profile into fundraising that would then help within the district,” said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter in Washington, D.C., that covers U.S. House and Senate races. “Being on TV regularly doesn’t really matter much in the district unless you can translate into votes and support.”

Jennifer Johnson, spokeswoman for the Arizona Democratic Party, said Babeu’s possible bid will distract from his job as sheriff.

“It looks like Paul Babeu hopes to spend even less time as sheriff and even more time on TV than he already does,” Johnson said. “When it comes to self-promotion, he’s an overachiever, even if the public has to pick up the tab.”

As drawn, the revamped district has 41.5 percent registered Republican voters and 23.3 percent registered Democrats.

It is likely more candidates will emerge, Gonzales said.

“Open congressional seats are a prized commodity for people who want to move up the political ladder,” he said.

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