Feb. 15, 2011— -- Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the man who calls himself "America's toughest sheriff," says he is considering a run for U.S. Senate in 2012 in Arizona and has the money and votes to be competitive.
"The issue is whether I want to leave this office and go to Washington and try to make a difference there, which I would do if I run and win," Arpaio, 78, said in an interview with The Hill.
Arpaio, first elected Maricopa County Sheriff in 1992, is a popular figure among conservatives around the country for his tough approach to crime and punishment, including housing prisoners in tents, issuing them pink underwear, and putting them to work on chain gangs.
He's also known for leading aggressive sweeps to round up and jail illegal immigrants.
A poll released Monday puts Arpaio on top of a list of possible GOP candidates to replace Republican Sen. Jon Kyl, who announced last week that he will not seek reelection.
"We were very pleased with the results," said Chad Willems, Arpaio's campaign manager and director of The Summit Consulting Group, which conducted the poll. "Joe's not saying no, not jumping in with both feet, but he's definitely taking a look at a run."
Willems said Arpaio raised an impressive $5 million between April 2009 and December 2010 for his bid for a sixth term as sheriff, and still has about $3.5 million on hand that he could use for a Senate run.
"We are continually fundraising. It's a national effort. The outpouring for the sheriff and his policies has been incredible. Money is coming in every single day," said Willems.
When Arpaio last ran for reelection in 2008, he collected between $600,000 and $700,000 for the entire cycle, Willems said.
Several other prominent state Republicans are believed to be considering bids for Kyl's seat, including U.S. Reps. Jeff Flake and Ben Quayle, former Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Hayworth, and state Rep. Trent Franks.
Meanwhile, Arpaio remains under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for allegedly implementing policies that discriminate against Hispanics, charges he has denied.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio Popular Among Conservatives
The Justice Department sued Arpaio in September for his alleged refusal to cooperate in the federal investigation. Arpaio called the suit evidence that the Obama administration is making Arizona "Washington's new whipping boy."
The case is still pending, according to former counsel Bob Driscoll.
"Getting sued by the Department of Justice over enforcing illegal immigration laws in the state doesn't hurt him politically, and probably bolsters him," said Willems. "The more he's attacked, the better his numbers get… He's definitely not politically correct, but he reports directly to the people and they respect him for that."