Phoenix on high alert for Trump rally

Political leaders and law enforcement officials in Arizona are on high alert ahead of President Trump’s campaign rally Tuesday night in Phoenix.

The big question is whether there will be more supporters of Trump inside the Phoenix Convention Center, which holds 29,000, or protestors outside.

Trump’s response to the violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., has become the biggest controversy to date of his presidency.

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The Phoenix rally, as a result, has become an opportunity for Trump’s opponents to show their force.

Some GOP leaders, such as Gov. Doug Ducey, are steering clear of the rally entirely.

Trump is moving ahead with the event despite a plea from Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat, that he stay away. 

Stanton said in a statement that he is “disappointed” that Trump would hold a campaign rally while the nation “is still healing from the tragic events in Charlottesville.”

Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams said in a statement that her force will have “maximum staffing during the visit.”

The department is “working 24/7 with our partners to ensure all of our resources are in place,” Williams said.

Stanton said the city is committed to keeping everyone inside and outside the arena safe.

“The Phoenix police is always professional and the FBI and Department of Homeland Security have been great about coordinating with local law enforcement,” former Arizona GOP Chairman Robert Graham told The Hill.

Charlottesville isn’t the only reason to think the Phoenix rally could be combustible.

The president has mused publicly about pardoning Joe Arpaio, the controversial former sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., and an early Trump supporter who was found guilty in a Justice Department investigation of racially profiling Latinos. Arpaio was found guilty of contempt of court after he continued the practices. 

Democrats are warning that a public pardon at a campaign rally would stoke racial tensions at a time when the nation is on edge.

Stanton said a pardon would “enflame emotions and further divide our nation,” while Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) said Arpaio “shouldn’t be let off the hook for his crimes” just so Trump can win “some bonus points with his most racist supporters.”

But some Republicans in the state believe Arpaio was railroaded by the Obama Justice Department and are eager to see his name cleared. 

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) released a statement on Monday calling Arpaio’s conviction “the culmination of a political witch hunt by the Obama administration to sideline and destroy a formidable opponent.”

"Sheriff Arpaio has been a faithful servant of this nation for over six decades,” Biggs said. “He should be allowed to live out the rest of his days in peace and confidence that his efforts were not in vain.”

Trump may also use the rally to lash out at Arizona’s home state senators, John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSenate's defense authorization would set cyber doctrine Senate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions MORE and Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeCorker pressed as reelection challenges mount -trillion debt puts US fiscal house on very shaky ground Senate votes down Paul's bid to revoke war authorizations MORE, two of his most vocal GOP critics in the upper chamber.

Flake is a ripe target for attack after the release of his book, “Conscience of a Conservative,” which argues that Republicans must reclaim the soul of their party from Trump.

Speculation is rampant among political operatives in Arizona about whether Trump will meddle in the state’s 2018 Senate primary, where Flake has attracted a challenger in former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who will attend the rally — though not as a guest of Trump’s. 

The president has not made an endorsement in Flake’s race but has tweeted support for Ward, who is not viewed as a credible challenger by many establishment Republicans. Ward mounted an unsuccessful primary challenge against McCain last year.

A super PAC supporting Ward’s bid has received a $300,000 donation from conservative mega-donor Robert Mercer, and several operatives from a pro-Trump outside group have peeled off to work for her.

Trump has teased his support for Ward in a tweet, but many believe the White House is waiting to see whether a stronger candidate like Graham or state Treasurer Jeff DeWit get into the race.

This story was updated at 12:06 p.m.