Arizona sheriff launches bid for Congress
© Courtesy Paul Babeu

After months of flirting with another congressional bid, Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu tells The Hill he’s officially jumping in the race to replace outgoing Rep. Ann KirkpatrickAnn KirkpatrickDems outraising Republicans in final stretch of midterms Kirkpatrick makes comeback by winning Arizona Democratic House primary Live results: Arizona and Florida hold primaries MORE (D-Ariz.).

“I spent a number of years fighting Washington’s inaction. Now it’s time to bring that fight directly to our nation’s capital,” Babeu, the Republican two-term Pinal County sheriff and border-security hawk, said in a phone interview.

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“People are pissed off about what’s going on in America and they are tired of electing politicians who break their promises and their oath,” he continued. “I’m one who raised my right hand, swore my oath countless times to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. And I’ve done that.”

An Iraq War veteran and former police officer, Babeu is the third Republican to join the race for Arizona's 1st Congressional District, one of the largest and most competitive districts in the country. Former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett and wealthy rancher Gary Kiehne are already running.

Arizona state House Speaker David Gowan also joined the race on Monday, portraying himself as a consistent conservative.

“While most candidates rely on promises of what they will do, I prefer to be judged on my conservative record and leadership," Gowan said in a statement.

Former state lawmaker Tom O'Halloran is the only declared candidate on the Democratic side. He served in the statehouse as a Republican and later registered as an independent before announcing this year he was running for Congress as a Democrat.

Kirkpatrick, a centrist Democrat, is leaving the House to challenge longtime GOP Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump: 'You know what I am? I'm a nationalist' Graham on Saudi Arabia: 'I feel completely betrayed' Meghan McCain calls Russian attacks against her father the 'highest compliment' to her family MORE (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee.

Babeu, 46, is well known throughout the state. A staunch McCain ally, he helped author the senator’s 10-point border security plan and appeared in McCain’s famous “Complete the Danged Fence” campaign ad in 2010. Cable news outlets frequently turn to him to discuss immigration issues.

But Babeu also carries enormous political baggage into the campaign. During his 2012 bid for Congress, a Mexican immigrant, Jose Orozco, accused the sheriff of threatening to deport him if he revealed their romantic relationship. Orozco also released compromising photos of the conservative sheriff, as well as text messages between them.

Babeu, who came out as gay, was exonerated of any wrongdoing by the state attorney general. He easily won a second term as sheriff in 2012.

In the interview, Babeu called that period a “very difficult time,” but he maintained he told the truth through it all.

“At the end of the day, I want to be judged on my merit, my performance, like every other American. The voters of my county reelected me amidst all that controversy and false allegations,” said Babeu, who pointed out he is the only lawman and military veteran in the race.

“The people here know me,” he added. “Our country, the people and Republicans are far more accepting, and they are not narrow-focused and -minded as people portray them to be.”

Arizona is a key border state that's seen its share of high-profile immigration battles, and Babeu believes he’d bring an important voice and perspective to Congress.

“This is why you don’t need just another politician to go to Washington,” he said. “We need a sheriff in Washington that understands these issues, that can articulate what’s really happening, and formulate a plan ... to secure that border.”

Babeu said he’ll also fight against overreach by the Environmental Protection Agency, and stress that it’s harmed jobs and the Arizona economy. And, given the congressional district’s vast forests, he’s concerned about managing forests and protecting against wildfires.

— This story was updated at 12:43 p.m.