Note: Please see update at the end of this post.
Despite a last-minute smear campaign by her detractors and a surprise endorsement of the incumbent by Congressman Ed Pastor, one-time thorn in the side of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Rebecca Jimenez, was leading a four person pack in the race for mayor of the small town of Guadalupe by day's end Tuesday.
Jimenez was the top vote-getter with 190 votes, leading current Mayor Yolanda Solarez, who clocked in with 169 votes.
Maricopa County elections director Karen Osborne said the tally isn't final until the provisional ballots are counted. But as a majority is needed for victory, a May 21 runoff between the two women is a sure bet.
Jimenez was elated with her showing, especially given Pastor's surprise endorsement of her main rival and the fact Solarez was running as a team with a popular city councilman. She ascribed her lead to old fashioned, grassroots campaigning.
"We went door-to-door and talked to people," she told me via phone Tuesday evening. "[Solarez] didn't."
For example, Jimenez said she and city councilman and supporter Andrew Sanchez walked five hours Monday knocking on doors and that she hadn't slept in 36 hours. By contrast, she said Solarez took her re-election for granted, and relied on others to campaign for her.
Jimenez became a folk hero locally when she stood up to Arpaio during a vicious, MCSO immigration sweep of Guadalupe in 2008.
With TV news cameras recording the confrontation, Jimenez marched into Arpaio's command center and demanded that the sheriff decamp.
Arpaio turned apoplectic, promising to be back the next day. But though the sweep continued for another 24 hours, Arpaio withdrew his mobile HQ to a spot outside of town.
Suddenly, the emperor had no clothes. A small town mayor and mom had faced down "America's toughest sheriff."
The victory was short-lived, and Guadalupe's petty power elite, such as it is, conspired against Jimenez and with the sheriff to oust her from office.
Yet, the sheriff is still universally despised in the burg of 5,500, and Solarez is known to be an ally of the sheriff.
I asked Jimenez, if she were elected, would she consider finding a new law enforcement agency to protect Guadalupe, one ending the town's contract with the MCSO.
"If I become mayor?" Jimenez asked with a smile in her voice. "You mean when I become mayor?
"I'm really praying that this recall [of Arpaio] will be successful and then we can work with the new sheriff.
"If not, of course...His deputies still intimidate people in this town, and I won 't have it."
Jimenez's strong showing is a slap in the face to Pastor, whose eleventh hour endorsement was lambasted by Guadalupe residents and others on Facebook.
I contacted Pastor's office, seeking an explanation for this unpopular move and was told that Pastor was on a flight to D.C., and so could not speak to me immediately.
Does Pastor, whose district includes Guadalupe, really want to side with Solarez, who has countenanced the presence of the MCSO, an agency almost universally loathed by Guadalupanos?
I'd like to ask Pastor that question directly. His PR person promised that Pastor would call me Wednesday to discuss the matter. So if the congressman is true to his flack's word, we will see.
UPDATE March 13: After all the provisional ballots were counted, incumbent mayor Solarez pulled ahead with 246 votes to Jimenez's 241. Runoff May 21.
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