Democratic candidate for sheriff Dan Saban recently held a news conference to unveil his ambitious plans to reshape the office he wants to hold. But a few blocks away in Phoenix at nearly the same time, Saban's opponent, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, dominated local news coverage when he hastily called a news conference of his own to announce he was taking candy away from kids in his jails.
The incident underscores a point of persistent frustration for Saban as he battles an extremely entrenched incumbent for media attention.
"It's very frustrating," Saban said last week. "But it's one of the hurdles we're faced with here on a daily basis."
During the past several months, Saban has latched onto a familiar theme that's played out in politics throughout the country - change.
Saban describes Arpaio as a divisive figure among the Valley's law enforcement community, and vows to change that image of the county's top lawman.
"I'm about working together with other organizations and agencies to build a coalition and consensus," Saban said. "I am the voice of reason this office desperately needs."
Saban made his remarks Friday in the wake of early-morning raids the day before by Arpaio's deputies at Mesa municipal buildings to arrest suspected illegal immigrants. Saban, a former Mesa police commander, blasted the sheriff's tactics in the Mesa raid and other high-profile operations targeting illegal immigrants.
"Sheriff Joe is out of control," Saban said.
Since announcing his candidacy earlier this year, Saban has outlined a major shake-up of the department in order to reduce crime and response times to emergency calls in outlying regions of the county.
To do that, he's proposing to reassign 65 deputies to work beats in areas such as east Mesa, Fountain Hills, Cave Creek, Surprise and Avondale, where it can take deputies up to 16 minutes to respond to 911 calls.
Other parts of Saban's plan would include shuttering a special unit dedicated to investigating threats on the sheriff's life. The sheriff's controversial unit that focuses on illegal immigration would also be on the chopping block.
Under Saban's plan, at least three deputies working in the sheriff's public relations department would be reassigned to work regular beats.
The plan, Saban said, would bolster the number of deputies working the streets at no additional cost to the taxpayer. By putting the deputies back on to the road, Saban believes he can cut response times and raise arrest rates that have fallen to 2 percent in some areas of the county.
This election will be the second time Saban, a former Buckeye police chief, has locked horns with Arpaio. In 2004, he attempted to topple Arpaio as a Republican, but was clobbered in the primary election. After that election, Saban switched sides because he said he grew disenchanted with the Republican Party. He insists it wasn't a politically calculated move to better his odds at winning the sheriff's office, but an ideological shift in his world view.
Regardless, Saban said he was prepared for a tough campaign and knew how rough it would be to compete with Arpaio for the spotlight.
In the 16 years Arpaio has held office, he has constantly made news for forcing prisoners to wear pink underwear, creating prison chain gangs and most recently through his illegal immigration sweeps.
Saban has struggled to raise the kind of cash he needs to break through Arpaio's dominance in the media. Saban has raised about $126,000, according to campaign finance reports. That amount is dwarfed by Arpaio, who has raked in more than $500,000 to wage his campaign. Saban has spent all but about $46,000 of the money raised by his campaign, while Arpaio still has almost $400,000 at his disposal.
Even though Arpaio has stockpiled hordes of cash, the Arizona Republican Party recently released highly publicized attack ads against Saban. Both state GOP officials and sheriff's officials have denied coordination on the advertisements. In fact, the ads have been roundly denounced by high-profile GOP leaders.
Saban does have a number of fundraising events scheduled, and he said he plans to blitz the Valley with radio advertisements and campaign pamphlets that should be hitting mailboxes soon. Saban acknowledged his campaign does not have money for television ads, which he called less effective anyway.
Regardless of the challenges he faces in snatching up cash and media attention, Saban and his campaign believe there are enough voters upset with the current sheriff to ride a wave of discontent into office.
Mark Manoil, chairman of the Maricopa County Democratic Party, has said large shifts in voter registration and the sheriff's "sliding" numbers in the polls all bode well for Saban. Manoil points out there are about 451,000 newly registered voters in the county who have never voted for Arpaio. That number accounts for roughly 28 percent of the electorate, people who Manoil said are largely ignored in public opinion polls.
Manoil also said a poll conducted earlier this year shows Arpaio's approval ratings dropping to 54 percent. More importantly, that number drops to 52 percent head-to-head against Saban, Manoil wrote in an editorial published in September in the Tribune.
However, Earl de Berge, who conducted the poll Manoil was referring to, noted that while Arpaio got a minimal majority, Saban was favored by only 28 percent of respondents. "There's absolutely no question his image has lost some popularity," de Berge said of Arpaio. "But he's still got popularity ratings most politicians would love to have."