Florence, Ariz. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu built a reputation as a rising, conservative star by taking a hardline stance against illegal immigration, attacking the Obama administration and appearing alongside Sen. John McCain in a 2010 re-election ad in which McCain urged federal officials to just “complete the danged fence.”
But, on Saturday, Babeu’s conservative image took a beating as he was forced to admit publicly that he is gay and was involved in a relationship with a Mexican immigrant who claims the sheriff threatened to have him deported if he revealed their relationship.
Babeu denies any wrongdoing and has vowed to continue his battle for the GOP nomination in an extremely conservative rural congressional district. He recognizes he is fighting an uphill battle, especially in a state where family values, as defined by a large evangelical Christian and Mormon population, often battle fierce, anti-immigrant beliefs to define conservatism.
At a lengthy press conference, Babeu said he hopes voters will overlook his personal lifestyle and stick with him.
His competitors think voters will reject him, with Arizona Sen. Ron Gould saying he’s sure to lose major support among the family-values voters who oppose gay marriage.
Babeu previously avoided a public stance on gay rights but came out in favor them Saturday.
“I can be a supporter and get out there and help articulate as we progress as a culture and a society, that there should be individual liberties and there should be individual freedoms,” Babeu said. “For any other person to define somebody else’s relationship and say it’s not OK, that is not who we are as Americans.”
Saturday’s revelation already forced Babeu to call presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s staff to say he would step down from his post as state campaign co-chairman. Some political observers think his career could be over.
“There is no question that his budding congressional campaign is over,” longtime Arizona Republican political consultant Sean Noble wrote on his blog. “Because it is a Republican primary in a conservative district, it’s likely that the thing that hurts him the most is that he was in a gay relationship.”
Others aren’t sure it’s the end, but they said there’s no doubt he will be hurt.