Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu said Monday he will run for Congress in the state’s open 1st District, just hours before state Speaker David Gowan announced he too would run.
The two join a field that could get crowded in this Republican-heavy district that is now represented by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, a Democrat who is challenging Republican Sen. John McCain next year. In a statement, Babeu, the second-term Pinal County sheriff who has been a crusader against the federal government’s immigration policies, said “now it’s time to bring the fight directly to our nation’s capital.”
“Illegal immigration impacts us all,” he said. “I’ve stood on the front lines against the drug cartels and human smuggling rings and I will bring this same tenacious work ethic to Washington, D.C."
In his announcement , Gowan, too, criticized the federal government on immigration policy, but said he is the candidate who has led on issues dear to conservatives.
"We’ve got a good field of nice candidates who will claim they are the greatest conservatives of all time," he said. "Some have no record, some have small records, and some have mixed records – the biggest difference between us all is that with me, the voters know they can rely on my campaign promises to be kept, and my positions here in Arizona to be exactly the same once I get to Washington, D.C.”
Babeu has considered a run for Congress before. In 2012, he formed an exploratory committee to challenge Rep. Paul Gosar, a fellow Republican. But, that effort was derailed after a story in the Phoenix New Times detailed his relationship with a 34-year-old man from Mexico who accused Babeu of threatening to have him deported if their relationship was revealed.
The race, which is rated a Tossup by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call, had already attracted two other Republicans, and more may be looking to get in, a Republican operative said Monday. Gary Kiehne, a Republican rancher and businessman who narrowly lost the 1st District nomination battle in 2012, and Ken Bennett, the former state Senate president, both announced their own campaigns earlier this year.
The district, larger than the state of Georgia, is one of the biggest in the country. Between paying for campaign travel and spending on commercials in the pricey Phoenix media market, running there is a expensive endeavor, but one Republican with knowledge of the district said the candidates running, with some name recognition already in place from earlier campaigns, are well-positioned for the race.
One Democrat, former state Sen. Tom O'Halleran, is also running for the seat.