Arizona's Babeu caught up in scandal

Arizona's Babeu caught up in scandal
Arizona's Babeu caught up in scandal

Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu has been widely hailed in far-right circles as a rising star in Republican Party politics. The Pinal County sheriff has been a Fox News darling for quite a while; he's parlayed his celebrity status into a congressional campaign; and when John McCain's re-election campaign ran his "complete the danged fence" ad in 2010, the spot co-starred Babeu.

In light of new revelations, however, it seems likely that Babeu's career is finished.

The Phoenix New Times broke the news on Friday that the Republican sheriff has been romantically involved with a campaign volunteer, and that Babeu reportedly tried to intimidate his boyfriend about keeping their relationship secret.

The New Times reported that a Mexican man identified only as Jose alleged that Babeu and his attorney, Chris DeRose, threatened that he could be deported if he didn't sign an agreement not to disclose his romantic affair with Babeu, who has a national reputation as a border-security hawk. Babeu said Saturday that he had "a personal relationship" with Jose, who volunteered on his political campaign, and acknowledged that provocative photographs of himself that accompanied the story on the New Times website were authentic.

One of the photographs, reminiscent of former Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.), shows Babeu standing in front of a bathroom mirror wearing nothing but his underwear. It's generally not the sort of thing congressional candidates want to see in the media during a Republican primary.

For his part, Babeu held a press conference on Saturday, in uniform, acknowledging that he's gay, but denying making any threats towards Jose. The sheriff's attorney also said Babeu had no reason to question his boyfriend's immigration status during their relationship.

Babeu also said he intends to stay in the congressional race and would not resign as sheriff.

Bruce Merrill, a veteran Arizona political scientist and a senior research fellow at Arizona State University's Morrison Institute for Public Policy, told the Arizona Republic that the denials probably won't be enough to salvage Babeu's career. "You can't overcome that, if it's legitimate," Merrill said.

The chairman of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors also predicted Babeu would resign.

As for the larger implications, it's also worth noting that Babeu has been one of Mitt Romney's highest-profile supporters in Arizona. On Saturday, the Romney camp and Babeu had severed all ties.