Self-proclaimed toughest sheriff wins sixth term

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- The self-proclaimed toughest sheriff in America breezed past two little-known opponents to win a sixth term as Maricopa County sheriff Tuesday after facing the most bruising political challenge of his long career, forcing him to plow millions of dollars into the race to fend off the challenge.

Republican Joe Arpaio easily beat Democrat Paul Penzone and independent Mike Stauffer.

Metro Phoenix's longtime sheriff had faced heavy criticism that he has focused too much on investigations that bring him publicity and ignored many of the law enforcement duties he was hired to do.

"You will have to deal with me for another eight years," the 80-year-old sheriff said late Tuesday, vowing to run for a seventh term in 2016 and to continue to crack down on illegal immigration.

Also on Tuesday, the county immediately 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 earlier this year 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.

Penzone said his biggest challenge in the campaign was to present voters with a more qualified candidate, rather than focusing on Arpaio's failures as a law enforcement leader.

"We needed more traction and more opportunity to get our message out," Penzone said.

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 office has said it has moved to clear up the inadequately investigated cases and has taken steps to prevent the problem from happening again.

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.

Arpaio spent $6 million during the campaign, while Penzone spent $664,000. The sheriff wasn't immediately available for comment Tuesday night.

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