How low can they go, Joe? Arpaio's numbers slip to 54 percent in new Rocky Mountain Poll.

With three months to go, a glimmer of hope for Arpaio-foe Dan Saban.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio's a wounded animal tonight. And challenger Dan Saban 's on the hunt and smelling fresh blood. A new Rocky Mountain/BRC poll shows Joe's numbers trending downward like they've been doing since last year. Currently, our aged lawman can only brag a 54 percent approval rating in Maricopa County, tumbling from 59 percent in November of 2007, and even further from 64 percent in March of 2007. This, despite the fact that Joe and his moronic minions continue to claim Arpaio retains a fantasy 80 percent approval rating.

Faced off against Saban, the numbers slide a couple more ticks to 52 percent versus Saban's 38 percent, with 10 percent undecided, and a plus or minus 5 percent error rate.

Saban's numbers are weak, but consider that Saban possesses neither the name recognition of the Sheriff, nor Joe's fat campaign purse. In a press release, BRC made it clear that this poll is bad news for Arpaio, evidence that he's being viewed more and more negatively by the population, especially Phoenix voters:

"Although his popularity is on the wane from its heyday, Arpaio nonetheless currently holds a 14-point lead over Democrat challenger Dan Saban (52% to 38%), and he enjoys strong popularity among both Republican and Independent voters. On the other hand, Arpaio amassed nearly 57 percent of the vote four years ago. Additionally, recent news stories critical of the Sheriff Department’s budget deficits and slow response time to serious emergency calls may have taken some of the blush off the sheriff’s ‘I enforce the laws image.’"

I'll say. Every time Joe does an anti-immigration sweep, he alienates potential voters. With every corn vendor dragnet, every patrol aimed at pulling over brown-skinned folk with cracked windshields, he empties yet another shovel-full of earth from his political grave. When I see Arpaio now, he looks like a haunted man. Tired, and angry at the world that made him that way.

Dan Saban, on the other hand, looks vigorous and svelte, having shed a few pounds on the campaign trail. And unlike his opponent, he's in complete command of his faculties. I recently heard him on wing-nut Bruce Jacobs' radio show, and Saban was on his game as Jacobs spent most of the time throwing verbal knives at the man. The former Buckeye police chief never flinched, facing down every hostile question and caller with reason and facts. It was a stellar performance, and it sounded like Jacobs respected Saban for it.

"It's exciting," Saban told me when I called to ask him about the new numbers. "There's a lot of work to do, but this reflects what we're seeing every day. People are fed up. I've never seen people so energized."

Saban explained that he still expects fundraising to be a challenge, that people are telling him they're too intimidated to donate to his campaign. (Arpaio's cash on hand as of his June 30 finance report was a bloated $360K, Saban's a meager $11K.) I can buy that. Arpaio keeps an enemies list. After every election, those who supported his opponent are targeted for retribution. Saban himself was smeared by Arpaio's henchmen in the 2004 Republican primary. (Saban's a Dem today, in case you didn't know.) He told me that he believes Arpaio is capable of anything, perhaps even a bogus raid on his home or some other police state tactic to discredit him.

Though Saban has challenged Arpaio to a series of debates throughout the county, Arpaio's office is blowing him off. No worries. Saban plans to turn the debate dates into town hall meetings, perhaps with an enpty chair next to him, to symbolize the non-presence of our cowardly top constable.

I would urge Saban to go a step further, perhaps even show up to one of the increasingly contentious Board of Supervisor meetings, or to public events Arpaio will certainly be at. That way, he could challenge Arpaio to a debate in person. Imagine if Saban showed to an Arpaio book signing, for instance, with every one watching and the cameras marking every move. Arpaio would wither.

But for the moment, we can allow ourselves an inkling of hope in the hard reality of these numbers. Arpaio may finally be ready to fall, like some rusted relic of a bygone era, ready to collapse in to heap of twisted scrap.

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