PHOENIX — The self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America breezed past two challengers to win a sixth term as Maricopa County sheriff after facing his most bruising political challenge.
Republican Joe Arpaio easily beat Democrat Paul Penzone and independent Mike Stauffer.
Although Arpaio held a double-digit edge over his challengers, metro Phoenix's longtime sheriff faced heavy criticism that he has focused too heavily on investigations that bring him publicity and ignored many of the law enforcement duties he was hired to do.
The 80-year-old sheriff, who vowed to run for a seventh term in 2016, told supporters that he would reveal his emotions on the bruising race to only his wife, Ava.
"I am going to get it off my shoulders, some of the nasty situations that occurred during this campaign," Arpaio said.
The themes of cracking down on crime and illegal immigration have been popular with voters in the past, but that narrative was turned against him this year.
The county to the immediate south of metro Phoenix re-elected Republican incumbent Paul Babeu. The two-term Babeu defeated Democrat Kevin Taylor and independent Ty Morgan in the Pinal County sheriff's race.
Babeu was forced to acknowledge he is gay after stories emerged of a falling out with a former lover and shirtless photos of him on a gay dating website came to light. Babeu pulled out of the race for a congressional seat after the news broke.
Arpaio wasn't immediately available for comment Tuesday night.
Arpaio has been dogged by revelations that his office failed to adequately investigate hundreds of sex-crimes cases — including dozens of alleged child molestations — and allegations that his deputies have racially profiled Latinos in his trademark immigration patrols.
The sheriff's office reopened more than 400 sex-crimes cases that were reported to the agency but were inadequately investigated or not investigated at all after they were reported over a three-year period ending in 2007.
A city that had contracted with Arpaio's office for police services had concluded there were many cases in which sheriff's investigators wrote no follow-up reports, collected no additional forensic evidence and made zero effort after the initial report of the crime was taken. The city concluded some cases were no longer viable, in part, because victims had either moved away or otherwise moved on.
The sheriff's has said it has moved to clear up the inadequately investigated cases and have taken steps to prevent the problem from happening again.
Penzone, who tried to capitalize on the criticism of Arpaio's success as a law enforcement leader, told supporters Tuesday night that Arpaio's lead was going to be hard to overcome.
"Unfortunately, it didn't work out in our favor," Penzone said.
While the sheriff's immigration enforcement has made him popular among some voters, it has led to two lawsuits that alleged racial profiling in his immigration patrols.
A federal judge heard of one of the lawsuits this summer and hasn't yet issued his ruling. The lawsuit filed by a small group of Latinos will serve as a precursor for a similar yet broad civil rights lawsuit against Arpaio by the U.S. Department of Justice.