PHOENIX (AP) — A conservative Arizona sheriff whose congressional campaign took a hit when he disclosed that he was gay amid allegations that he threatened a former Mexican boyfriend with deportation dropped out Friday, opting to run for re-election.
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, a Republican, is known for his hardline stance on illegal immigration and border security and was considered a strong candidate in a three-way primary in the 4th Congressional District, which covers most of northwestern Arizona.
His image took a beating in February when the boyfriend, a former campaign volunteer, claimed the sheriff threatened him with deportation if he disclosed their relationship. At the time, a picture of a shirtless Babeu was posted on a gay dating website.
After Babeu’s disclosures, he stepped down as co-chairman for likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s Arizona campaign and his fundraising dropped.
In the announcement ending his congressional run, Babeu said he wants to seek re-election as sheriff because his chief deputy cannot run for the office. Babeu cited an earlier promise to constituents that he would maintain a continuity of leadership.
Babeu insisted during an interview that he remained a “viable candidate” in what he said would have been a hard-fought congressional race and that his “grave concern” for the sheriff’s department and the people it serves dictated his decision.
“Did we have enough money to continue and fight a battle? Absolutely,” he said.
However, Republican political consultant Bert Coleman said the disclosures hurt Babeu.
“That’s why he decided to drop out. He knows he must mend a lot of fences on his home turf. But as far as a congressional race, he was a nonstarter,” Coleman said.
Coleman did campaign work in previous cycles for one of the other congressional candidates, Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, an incumbent tea party Republican who switched districts.
The other candidate is state Sen. Ron Gould, a conservative from northwestern Arizona.
Babeu’s chances of being re-elected sheriff are probably good, Coleman said. “He’s got a lot of explaining to do and it will be easier for him to explain to the folks who know him best,” he said.