It was a breezy recent evening in Florence as Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu walked to the podium in his crisp, dark uniform, which included a Smokey hat replete with a gold star pinned to its front.
Babeu was there to lead a memorial for fallen peace officers from his county, and the bald and blustery orator defined for the crowd outside the Sheriff's Office what he believes defines heroes:
"These men and women are the people that, when everyone else is running in a different direction, [they] are running toward the crisis, helping people, not knowing how it's going to end."
New Times cover story
At the end of the ceremony, Babeu was besieged by reporters asking whether he planned to drop out of the race in Arizona's Fourth Congressional District, as sources had been suggesting to the media for a couple of days. As he walked away, he said he would not answer "political questions."
About eight hours later, he posted a letter on his congressional campaign website that he was, indeed, dropping out of the race and instead running for re-election as sheriff — after which he submitted to a round of TV and radio interviews with reporters who aren't inclined to ask tough questions.
During those appearances, Babeu cast himself as the hero.
"We've been under attack the last few months," he told a reporter for KTVK Channel 3, referring to various allegations of wrongdoing leveled against him. "But it's nothing new to me. I've run after armed criminals, not knowing how it would end."
Babeu insisted that he ended his congressional campaign to enter the sheriff's race because his handpicked successor, Chief Deputy Steve Henry, decided to drop out. Babeu wants the public to believe that Henry, who hasn't publicly commented on the turn of events, decided to quit his campaign after the federal government — which is investigating Babeu and his top deputies for unlawful politicking on the job — told him he couldn't be chief deputy and run for sheriff at the same time.
What Babeu fails to mention, of course, is that he could've served out his term as a lame-duck sheriff and selflessly allowed his chief deputy to stay in the race.
Despite Babeu's excuses, he had a dismal shot at winning the congressional seat, following New Times' reporting that his gay, Mexican ex-lover said the sheriff had threatened to deport him if he revealed their relationship. Running for sheriff again was Babeu's only play to remain in politics.
Asked on TV, after his big decision, who was to blame for his current political woes, he insisted that he is one of several "Arizona leaders" under attack by President Barack Obama's administration.
He had said the same thing a few weeks earlier when he was still in the throes of the congressional race. Only then, he was more specific, invoking the names of not only Obama, but U.S Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary and former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano as scourges on American society.
"I have always stood up nationally to fight these people," he shrieked during the congressional debate in Prescott, "to be a spokesman on behalf of not just my county [but] our state, to bring sanity to [the immigration] issue."
But the "sanity" he has brought as self-anointed "spokesman" for Arizona has been to distort the truth: predicting shootouts between his deputies and drug-cartel members that never took place, claiming "off-the-charts" border violence, when federal crime statistics show a decreasing trend, and misleading the public with assertions that Obama has cut back on border-security resources when the opposite is true.
Babeu boldly claimed in Prescott that his mission — his duty as a sworn officer of the law — has been to "enforce all the laws" (anti-immigrant-speak for going after undocumented car-washers and gardeners with as much gusto as immigrant murderers and drug runners).
It's the same line that he's used many times in whatever race he's run in Arizona, but beneath his layers of convenient "truth" is the actual truth: When Babeu was running for sheriff the first time, he made a point of telling Pinal County residents that he would not enforce immigration laws by going after illegal aliens who come here merely to feed their families.
His war with the Obama administration that he brags about boils down to dozens of appearances on Fox News nationally and on similarly arch-conservative talk shows.
Now tangled in professional and personal scandals, Babeu doesn't enjoy Fox's attention anymore. He's plummeted from national Republican star to morally challenged pariah in his party — which is the real reason he has suddenly opted to run again for sheriff instead of for Congress.
Polls showed that he had no chance of winning the congressional seat, and many believe he will have an uphill battle to win re-election to his current job. Ironically, Henry would've had a much better shot at winning.
Babeu's promising political career began to unravel when New Times reported that Jose Orozco, Babeu's ex-boyfriend, whose immigration status was questionable during their relationship, accused the sheriff and his camp of abuse of power ("Mexican Ex-Lover Says Sheriff's Attorney Threatened Him," February 16).
In that article, New Times also exposed the sheriff's poor political judgment in maintaining a profile and racy photos on adam4adam.com, a free website where gay men arrange sexual liaisons. And in sending sexually explicit text messages and naked and half-naked photos of himself — including one in which he's shown with an erect penis — to a man he had never met.
Unveiled next in the media was Babeu's tenure as headmaster of DeSisto School, a private Massachusetts boarding school, eventually shut down by state officials, that was plagued by cases of physical and sexual abuse of students. Former DeSisto attendees, along with Babeu's sister, accused him of having an inappropriate relationship with a 17-year-old male student while he managed the institution ("Babeu's Suspicious Past," March 8).
In addition, Babeu's office is under federal investigation over allegations that top aides worked on Babeu's congressional campaign on taxpayers' time. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel has subpoenaed laptops and other records from Babeu's department.
And there are three investigations of the sheriff or his office that grew out of Jose Orozco's claims — one by the state solicitor general, another by the Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys advisory council, and a third by the Pima County Attorney's Office — over e-mails that may have been unlawfully deleted by the PCSO.
Babeu would have the public believe that his decision to end his congressional campaign had nothing to do with any of the scandals in which he and his office are embroiled. Or that he was barely pulling in campaign contributions since his Mexican ex-boyfriend's allegations were published.
As evidence of his failing congressional campaign mounted, rumors abounded that Babeu would knock Henry out of the sheriff's race so that he could take the spot for himself, but Babeu and his campaign manager denied them, saying they were firmly committed to going to the nation's capital.
Finally, the jig was up, and Babeu admitted the inevitable: He was stepping over Henry and running for sheriff again.
Not because he couldn't win the congressional race, he claimed, lying to a TV reporter that — despite all the trouble the Obama administration has caused him — he remained ahead in District Four.
Paul Babeu came to Arizona from Massachusetts in 2002 and, in a few years, managed to maneuver himself into his adopted state's political spotlight. Because he is younger, more charismatic, and more articulate than his mentor, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, he soon was courted by the conservative national media.
Babeu made at least 29 appearances on Fox News, but since the Jose Orozco scandal, the right-wing pundits have stopped calling.
A week before New Times broke the story about the allegations leveled by Babeu's ex-boyfriend, the sheriff was interviewed on The Dennis Miller Show, aired from the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., an annual gathering of conservative activists and politicians from across the country.
The two hosts who were sitting in for Miller lavished the smiling Babeu with compliments:
"If [you've watched] the news at all in the last couple of years, what with the border wars going on in Arizona, Mexico, with the anti-illegal immigration law [and] 'Fast and Furious,' you have seen a stalwart defender of all of these issues, a brilliant speaker on behalf of these issues. You know him from his perfect bald head," one of the hosts gushed. "It is! Look at that head! No, that is a great head!"
His appearance on the show was preceded by the national Tea Party Nation's labeling the rural Arizona county sheriff a great "American hero" a couple of months earlier.
Babeu exploited the attention for all it was worth.
Despite lacking evidence to prove the contention, he claimed repeatedly that his was the "number one pass-through county for drugs and illegal immigrants in America!" Then, during his testimony before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on homeland security and border issues, he made a point to mention that he was the "youngest sheriff in Arizona."
And Babeu did achieve a cracked greatness during his time as a national conservative up-and-comer — he became the Great Exaggerator.
It was all about making himself a hero to Tea Party Republicans he believed would put him on the national stage.
His spiel included boasts during speaking engagements that he was a tested "combat veteran" who had saved countless lives. Babeu was a member of the Army National Guard in Massachusetts and Arizona over 20 years, but his service record shows that — despite what he led admirers to believe — he hardly was in bloody firefights with the enemy in Iraq. The reality is, while on active duty in the country for several months, he was a "human resources" and "public affairs" officer.
Similarly, about his time as an officer with the Chandler Police Department, he claimed that he went on "thousands and thousands of emergency calls," a feat that would be impossible for a cop who patrolled the streets for about 3 1/2 years, as Babeu did.
As he has infused himself with valor, he has diminished those he considers political enemies — and President Obama is at the top of his list. During his ill-fated campaign for Congress, he distorted the truth about resources, physical and financial, that the feds have invested in border security.
Babeu, for example, claims continually that Obama has cut funding for border security, even though overall funding has increased. During a series of interviews last year, Babeu even maintained that the Obama administration didn't devise a plan to address drug smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border until the president's third year in office.
Babeu went on to spin that his blasting the Obama administration over Fast and Furious (a botched operation by federal agencies that put high-powered weapons into the hands of Mexican drug cartels) forced the feds to finally come up with a plan in 2011.
It was another attempt by Babeu — whose overriding political strategy has been to demand immensely tighter border security — to put one over on the public.
The truth is, the Obama administration announced its version of the National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy in June 2009.
On the local front, Babeu ran for sheriff the first time on a platform that emphasized fiscal conservatism. Yet county officials had to point out to him that the PCSO budget was spiraling out of control. He responded by blaming his budget overruns on county supervisors' approving a pay increase for his deputies — which he had demanded.
He topped this hypocrisy with a much bigger one:
The avowed "fiscal conservative" requested a $5 million earmark from the Arizona Legislature to combat "border violence" in his county — which is 70 miles from the border. But lately he has insisted that he opposes earmarks of any kind.
When Babeu first ran for sheriff, he stressed that he would bring integrity and "higher standards" to the PCSO. And he has dealt severely with deputies deemed by him to have brought disgrace to the Sheriff's Office. Lately, after the border hawk was accused of shaming the PCSO himself by posing on gay websites and allegedly threatening his Mexican ex-lover, he dismissed his actions as "nobody's business" ("Babeu Responds to New Times Article," February 18).
According to the sheriff and former head of a disgraced private school, his personal and professional woes are overwhelmingly the fault of political enemies.
"All of these anvils are being dropped out of the sky upon us," Babeu told KTVK after he dropped out of the congressional race. "Us" being Governor Jan Brewer, Attorney General Tom Horne, and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. "[The Obama administration is] taking punches at the top leaders in our state," he said.
"Arizona is a thorn in the side of President Obama, Eric Holder, and Napolitano," Babeu spat. "We shall not be silenced!"
On the national stage, however, Babeu has been shut up and shut out.
While stumping in Prescott, Yuma, and other parts of the far-flung Fourth Congressional District he yearned to represent in Washington, Paul Babeu pledged — holding up his right hand for emphasis — to take a hard-line stand on immigration enforcement and to fight President Obama and his liberal minions to the end.
Despite what voters heard in news reports concerning his gay sexual escapades, he is — he swore — a true Republican conservative.
But his self-descriptions and political promises go beyond typical political stumping, as he has not-so-subtly attempted to bulk up his image with a few choice phrases — among them that he is a "combat veteran."
He evokes the powerful image of a brave soldier on the front lines exchanging gunfire with enemies of America.
In February, that is how Babeu introduced himself to an audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference in D.C., declaring that he had served a "combat tour in Iraq."
Babeu joined the Army National Guard in Massachusetts in 1990, participating in mandatory training on select days each year. One of his early Guard assignments was helping to build a fence along a portion of the California-Mexico border.
He worked his way up through the ranks, was promoted to major in 2005, and served in Iraq from April to November of that year.
Although he has referred to himself as a "combat veteran" many times this year, military personnel files obtained by New Times do not show him engaging in actual combat.
They do show that he was discharged honorably and that he received the requisite ribbons for such service, including an Army Achievement Medal, an Armed Forces Reserve Medal, and an Iraq Campaign Medal.
New Times reached out repeatedly to Babeu and his campaign representatives to clarify his combat record and to answer other questions for this article, but neither the sheriff nor his operatives responded. Indeed, during an attempt to talk to him at the Prescott event, he ignored New Times' questions, and a campaign worker eventually growled that the sheriff only talks to "real newspapers."
A couple of old news accounts, in which Babeu is quoted, offer insight on his real role in Iraq.
In 2008, after he was elected sheriff, Babeu told the North Adams Transcript that he was a "human resources director" in Iraq.
"Most of the time, when a serviceman is deployed, he is located in one area for an entire tour," Babeu said to the Massachusetts newspaper. "I was fortunate because the type of job I had required that I be flown around a lot. I worked to ensure that the command climate was beneficial for the troops. Sometimes there were morale issues, and I worked with the leaders to advise them and implement good practice standards."
He offered a similar description to a National Guard publication in 2010. He was quoted as saying he was a "public affairs officer [who] excelled at increasing morale and handling soldiers' issues, including family and psychological issues."
Several months after returning from Iraq, he was deployed to Yuma from June 2006 to November 2007 as part of Operation Jumpstart. Thousands of National Guard troops were ordered to the U.S.-Mexico border to aid Border Patrol agents while the feds embarked on a massive hiring campaign to get more boots on the ground.
Some National Guard troops took over administrative duties to free up Border Patrol agents for fieldwork, and others stood watch as armed guards and alerted agents of border breaches.
Babeu served as commander over Task Force Yuma. Depending on which interview with him you read, Major Babeu commanded 400, 700, or more than 1,000 Guard troops.
Attempting to do damage control after his Mexican ex-lover's accusations, he vastly inflated the number of emergencies he responded to as a Chandler policeman.
During a March appearance on www.newsmax.tv, a conservative, web-based talk show, he described himself as a Chandler cop who "literally respond[ed] to thousands and thousands of emergencies, people needing help, families needing help or protection, to save lives."
Babeu was on the payroll of the Chandler PD for six years — from December 31, 2002 until he resigned on January 4, 2009, to take over as Pinal County sheriff. But he was intermittently deployed as a Guardsman for about two years and took an additional six months of leave to campaign full time for the Sheriff's Office.
This means that he was on patrol in Chandler for about 3 1/2 years. When you crunch the numbers over that time period, he would have had to respond to 2.75 emergencies during every shift to reach even 2,000 such potentially lifesaving calls.
And this is a conservative estimate, since it doesn't take into account other reasons Babeu might have been off the street during a shift: personal time off, training, court appearances.
In addition, during 2003, the busiest year of Babeu's tenure at the Chandler PD, the department received 19,753 emergency calls for service and had about 230 patrol officers on the streets. If all things were equal, that's an average of 86 emergency calls per cop for the year.
Still another inconsistency in Babeu's résumé is his claim that he was awarded two life-saving medals as a city cop — when Chandler police officials say they only have one in their records.
Babeu got the commendation for his response to a July 2004 incident, in which (before paramedics arrived) he performed CPR on a man found collapsed outside a Circle K after drinking and shooting heroin.
Maybe an impressive feat on its own, but not impressive enough for Babeu, who appears to believe that inflating his curriculum vitae will make him more appealing to voters.
Paul Babeu's strategy is that if he can convince voters that he is an unapologetic enforcer of the strictest immigration laws, that he is staunchly anti-abortion, and that he will wage war on the hated-by-conservatives Barack Obama administration, they will forget or forgive what many fellow Republicans see as his tawdry lifestyle.
But on issues such as immigration enforcement and abortion, Babeu's record has swayed left and right.
"I'm against not only amnesty, I'm against the parsing of the law," Babeu said during a media interview at the 2012 CPAC in Washington, as he mocked Obama for "just waving his royal hand, thinking that he can just say we're gonna enforce some of the laws."
Just a year earlier, it was Babeu who was waving his "royal hand," making a round of public appearances as state lawmakers considered the $5 million earmark for the PCSO that Babeu claimed was essential for fighting smugglers' violence in his non-border county.
"I've never gone onto farms [to bust illegal workers].You know how many people would like me to do that? Quite a few," he told a Tucson TV station in February 2011. "You know how many people want me to pursue employers [of undocumented workers]? You know how many people want me to aggressively go into . . . government buildings [in search of illegals who may be working on cleaning crews]? I've never done that."
Babeu also said he was not against "any type of guest-worker program."
Lawmakers ended up approving that $5 million earmark for the PCSO, but the amount was whittled down to $1.7 million by March 2011.
Babeu gladly accepted his earmarked financial package, but he was silent about that special pot of cash during the congressional debate in Prescott. Instead, when the moderator asked the candidates whether they supported any type of earmark, Babeu delivered the responsible Republican answer: "No!"
He also has fallen short of Republican fiscal conservatism in his own PCSO budget.
"At the end of this fiscal year, he will be in a deficit," Pinal County Board of Supervisors Chairman Pete Rios tells New Times. "He will have exceeded his budget. We will have to bail him out to the tune of $600,000, $700,000. When he talks about all his 'accomplishments,' the budget certainly isn't one of them."
Reminded that the sheriff claims his office will have a budget surplus at the end of the fiscal year, Rios scoffs, "There is a lot of spinning that comes out of [Babeu's] office . . . and a lot of the information that comes out has been bent and shaped so it looks favorable."
Fiscal responsibility and immigration enforcement aren't the only issues that Babeu has flip-flopped on.
The latest incarnation of the failed Massachusetts politician who reinvented himself in Arizona includes an anti-abortion position aimed at fitting a mold that rabid conservatives want to hear.
In his first congressional campaign video after he was outed as gay by his ex-boyfriend's abuse-of-power accusations, Babeu told viewers that he is "still the conservative fighter who stood up to Obama over border security. And I'm still the pro-life candidate who will fight for new jobs and against increasing the national debt."
In a second video, released on April 24, he claimed that he's "always been pro-life."
Ever the chameleon, he spouted another line in October 1996. Publiceye.org, a human-rights think tank, noted then that while Babeu was running for a seat in the Massachusetts Senate that year, he claimed he had gone from "more conservative to more moderate" on the abortion issue.
The think tank reported that Babeu, in 1988, "was an anti-abortion, crusading North Adams city councilman." But during his state Senate race, Babeu adopted a "pro-choice" stance, Publicye.org reported, because he needed to appear moderate to liberal on the issue to district voters.
Pro-choice – and pro-gay-rights — stances by Babeu also were noted in a January 2000 Boston Phoenix article:
"Babeu, a county official, had challenged Democratic incumbent John Barrett to run for mayor of North Adams. [Babeu lost in the general election.] Some familiar with the race say that . . . Babeu was too right-wing. Yet Babeu . . . says he is pro-choice and pro-gay-rights, though he concedes that he was pro-life at age 18."
Claiming that his record is solidly conservative — even when political inconsistencies clearly are documented by media coverage over the years — demonstrates that he must consider the electorate in his adopted state naïve.
And why shouldn't he? Pinal County voters elected him their first Republican sheriff in history in 2008, without his Massachusetts political record becoming an issue, much less his tenure as head of the troubled DeSisto School.
Babeu ran the boarding school, which eventually was closed by the state for fostering an environment that was "excessively punitive," from April 1999 to August 2001.
The most politically damaging detail to come out of Babeu's time as executive director of the school was his close relationship with a 17-year-old student there.
Former students told New Times that they often saw Babeu showering attention on fellow student Joshua Geyer. Babeu's sister, Lucy, also has confirmed a relationship between Babeu and the student.
"I'd see [Babeu] around campus all the time," said Melissa Burech, who attended DeSisto during Babeu's tenure. "And I saw [Babeu and Josh] together more than they should've been. I saw [Babeu] take him off campus."
Lucy Babeu recalled a time when she saw Geyer at her brother's home in Massachusetts, adding that when she confronted him about the boy, he confessed that he was in love with Geyer.
Babeu has been silent about his alleged relationship with the student, but his lawyers have denied wrongdoing.
Over the past few months, he has told media that he was responsible only for the school's operations, including maintenance of its grounds, meaning he had no responsibility for any alleged cruelty to students there.
But he told another story on a campaign website, where he described his time at DeSisto as a period when he was "frequently recognized for his effectiveness in personnel management and fiscal abilities."
In 2002, when he applied for his job as a Chandler cop, Babeu noted on his application that, while at DeSisto, he supervised directors of the school and 80 full-time employees.
As with other aspects of his life, Babeu's relentless efforts to fine-tune his reality have been thwarted by a paper trail of facts.
During his first bid for sheriff, he ran on a platform of cleaning up the PCSO, and he made a show of fulfilling that promise by firing members of the office's command staff who had served under his predecessor.
"The PCSO's reputation within the law enforcement community has been damaged," Babeu said in January 2009, shortly after taking office. "The perishable trust we hold with the public also has been harmed. Accountability needs to be restored."
A few months later, in May 2009, he once again made a public declaration of his intolerance for anyone who damages the public's confidence and trust in the law enforcement agency.
"I will not allow the actions of a few to damage the perishable trust we hold with the public," Babeu said, announcing several more terminations.
He said he fired the individuals for lying and for disgracing the department.
"Officers uphold the law and are held to a higher standard of personal and professional conduct," he proclaimed.
That was in 2009. These days, with his personal and professional life under intense scrutiny, Babeu has adopted a different standard for himself, declaring that what he does privately is none of the public's concern.
This has been his defense when confronted with questions about his judgment in taking and electronically sharing racy photos of himself, "sexting" an unknown individual, and keeping a profile on a gay website to solicit sex.
Babeu demonstrated that he knew he was treading on professionally dangerous ground when he, in text messages, rebuffed requests for risque photos, telling the man on the other end of the conversation that he couldn't send the pictures because of his position in law enforcement.
Then he sent them anyway.
That accountability Babeu once called for must these days apply only to subordinates.
As much as his shiny bald head and his anti-immigration bluster, castigating President Obama is a trademark of the faded Republican luminary.
Babeu makes misleading claims about cutbacks on border security, when budget figures show that overall spending on guarding the border has increased under Obama. He claims the feds give illegal immigrants a pass, even though the number of immigrants deported under Obama has far exceed those arrested and deported under President George W. Bush.
"It's clear that Babeu is just looking for a quick way to claim Obama is soft on immigration — a claim that the evidence refutes," reports Media Matters Action Network, an online research center devoted to correcting conservatives' misinformation. "But we shouldn't be surprised: Exaggerations and false claims are standard for Babeu."
In reality, the Obama administration has increased U.S. Customs and Border Protection's budget to $11.2 billion in fiscal year 2011, up from $7.7 billion in 2007.
Obama also has doubled the number of Border Patrol agents since 2004.
Although a self-described "unabashed patriot," Babeu had no qualms about bashing the president while on active National Guard duty in June 2010.
At that time, Babeu appeared on Fox News' O'Reilly Factor and delivered his rote criticism of the president for failing to secure the border — calling Obama's alleged border inaction "shameful."
Three months later, Babeu retired from military service.
During one of the numerous interviews he gave at CPAC, the February political conference in Washington, Babeu said federal officials "have not helped us" in the fight against cartels smuggling drugs into Arizona.
Babeu said his office "had a historic drug bust three months ago . . . against the Sinaloa cartel," and he touted that 76 individuals were arrested and 108 high-powered weapons were confiscated because of his leadership. There was no mention of the multitude of federal law enforcement agencies involved in the bust.
A stop in 2010 by a Pinal County Sheriff's deputy had led to the capture of a cartel member who divulged information about the organization to investigators, sparking the massive law enforcement operation across Arizona.
Much of the cost of the investigation, which is ongoing, has been funded by federal anti-drug initiatives.
Though Babeu fails to credit these federal agencies, also involved were the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the DEA, the U.S. Marshals Service, and the Arizona U.S. Attorney's Office.
He also never credits several state and local police agencies for the success of the 17-month investigation dubbed "Operation Pipeline Express."
Lost in Babeu's rhetoric, too, is that the Obama administration deported 1.06 million people as of September 2011 — less than three years into his first term — compared to 1.57 million in Bush's two full presidential terms.
Moderates and liberals criticize the Obama administration for spending too much time and money on enforcement, when it refuses to seek amnesty for peaceful, longtime undocumented U.S. residents or champion the DREAM Act, which would allow promising undocumented college students or military enlistees to gain citizenship.
But Babeu harps that Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano hasn't done enough. She "doesn't know a damn thing about securing this border," he insists.
In Babeu's world, facts seldom add up to the nativist declarations that the dragged-out-of-the-closet gay politician has blathered since he's come to Arizona.
A free-flowing stream of cash that, early on, poured into Babeu's congressional campaign coffers dried up.
Overwhelming support from likely voters in the Fourth Congressional District sharply dropped, and invitations to appear on national conservative media outlets stopped coming.
Which is why — despite what he claimed in TV interviews the other day — he dropped out of the congressional race and decided to run for re-election.
Once his gay ex-lover's allegations came out, prospective voters in his congressional district abandoned him in droves.
In January, one of the first polls conducted in the western Arizona district, which stretches from Yuma to the state's northern border, showed Babeu with a strong lead among likely voters.
Conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, the poll reported that of those surveyed, 31 percent favored Babeu. Congressman Paul Gosar trailed at 23 percent, and state Senator Ron Gould received 19 percent.
"Babeu is well positioned to win this race," Glen Bolger, founding partner of Public Opinion Strategies, said at the time, adding that the sheriff had solid leads among "very conservative voters, Tea Party supporters, strong NRA supporters, and base Republicans."
At 23 percent, he called Gosar's support "underwhelming."
But just a month later — after Babeu was forced to announce his homosexuality following New Times' article about his Mexican ex-lover's abuse-of-power claims — the tide turned, and it was Babeu who was "underwhelming" likely voters.
This is when he started blaming the scandal involving his former lover on enemies and gay-bashers, and when he began to peel away politically from core principles of the Republican Party — which include protecting the institution of marriage between men and women and opposing gay rights.
When interviewed by CNN after New Times' story, he announced his support of gay marriage (ironically, something that he and President Obama have in common), saying the government cannot "legislate love."
It's a political position that does not resonate with those "very conservative voters" or "base Republicans" the pollsters mentioned.
The Arizona Capitol Times' Yellow Sheet reported on February 29 that Babeu's support across the district — but primarily in Pinal County — had plunged.
It said a January 19 pre-scandal poll had revealed Babeu's support stood at 29 percent, with Gosar's trailing at 19 percent. Within Pinal County, 62 percent of likely voters favored the sheriff.
A February 21 poll then showed Babeu's numbers had dipped to 25 percent support, with Gosar's at 30 percent.
A week later, on February 28, another poll showed that Babeu was in last place with 19 percent.
While 29 percent of voters were undecided, Babeu's opponents easily had surpassed him: Gosar had 25 percent of likely voters and Gould 21 percent. This poll also revealed that within Pinal County, Babeu had dropped to 37 percent support, from 62 percent.
And with almost nothing but negative national exposure, contributions to his congressional campaign slowed to a trickle. Just a few weeks before he dropped out of the race to seek re-election as sheriff, Babeu issued a plea for donations to help keep his first 30-second congressional campaign ad on the air.
Although Babeu was able to easily pull in $230,000 in the first three months of his congressional campaign — October, November, and December — by March, in the wake of the scandals enveloping him and his office, the gay lawman had collected only an additional $6,700.
By comparison, Congressman Gosar raised $80,000 that month.
Political sources think it's unlikely that Babeu can even get re-elected sheriff.
Despite his relentless efforts to wrap himself in Republican values, his base in Pinal County is made up of unapologetic conservatives who commingle Bible principles with their politics — most simply will not embrace Babeu's post-scandal proclamations that he now plans to fight unapologetically for gay rights.
Babeu has a lot of explaining to do as he steps into a crowded sheriff's race against several challengers — three Republicans, two Democrats, and an Independent.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
During a recent Channel 3 interview, Babeu made a point of saying some of the candidates in the sheriff's race have ties to white-supremacist groups, but he failed to mention his own ties to such organizations.
Babeu appeared on the openly "pro-white" Political Cesspool radio program in July 2010 to defend Arizona Senate Bill 1070. After he was criticized for the appearance, Babeu claimed he hadn't known the nature of the radio show. But the host of the Tennessee-based talk show said his staff had multiple conversations with both Babeu and his representatives explaining what the show was about before the sheriff appeared live.
"For Sheriff Babeu to change his mind and now regret coming on our show, for whatever reason, is his right," host James Edwards told New Times. "For him to act as though he had no idea of our ideology is a lie."
It was classic Babeu.