A cadre of Republicans still sore that Sheriff Joe Arpaio did a television commercial for Democrat Janet Napolitano in the 2002 gubernatorial election hope to make him pay a heavy political price when he faces re-election next year.

Matt Salmon, the Republican gubernatorial nominee who lost to Napolitano by a narrow margin, has signed on as campaign chairman for W. Steven Martin, who announced Tuesday he would challenge Arpaio in the Republican primary. Salmon said he's no fan of Arpaio, but his backing of Martin is not a personal slight against the sheriff.

“Do I care for Arpaio? Do I like him? No,” Salmon said.

But he added, “Life's too short to do something like this out of a vendetta.”

There also is a large segment of the Maricopa County Republican Party, made up of party leaders from the different voting precincts in the county, that believes Arpaio betrayed rank-and-file Republicans by tacitly backing Napolitano over Salmon, said John Rutledge of Mesa, chairman of the District 21 Republicans.

“As far as I'm concerned most of the county Republicans don't want anything to do with Arpaio,” Rutledge said. “For the hard-core party people, if you've got an elected official and they're supporting somebody from the other party, you wonder ‘why did I do all that work?’ If they want to support someone privately, that's their business. But I really object to them publicly supporting somebody from the other party.”

But Earl de Berge of the private polling group Behavior Research Center said Arpaio has little to fear. Arpaio has consistently scored as the most popular politician in Arizona, de Berge said. There is no indication that Arpaio's popularity among rank-and-file voters is diminishing, he said.

“We don't see it,” de Berge said of the notion that Arpaio is losing his luster. “In fact, within the rank-and-file Republicans, he's really admired.”

Arpaio drew scorn among some Republican leaders as the gubernatorial campaign neared its peak last year by doing a television commercial for Napolitano. While he did not endorse the Democratic nominee, Napolitano's campaign did tout the sheriff's support. Arpaio did not endorse Salmon.

The Arpaio ad came in response to attacks on Napolitano, then the state's attorney general, from Richard Mahoney, who was running for governor as an independent. Mahoney charged in his television commercials that Napolitano had done nothing to shut down child abuse and polygamy in Colorado City on the Arizona-Utah border. Arpaio said he took that as an affront to Napolitano's performance as a prosecutor, and agreed to do the ad to defend a fellow law enforcement officer.

Mahoney also charged in television ads that Salmon would go easy on those in the breakaway Mormon sect in Colorado City because Salmon is a Mormon. However, Arpaio did not do a television commercial to defend the Republican nominee.

Aside from Arpaio's ad, Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley endorsed a Democrat in the secretary of state's race, and county Treasurer Doug Todd endorsed a Democrat in the contest for state treasurer. They are equally scorned by many Republican leaders in the county, Rutledge said.

Last January, the county Republican committee passed a resolution that any Republican elected official caught endorsing a Democrat should not receive any help from the organization, Rutledge said.

Romley has indicated he will not seek re-election. Todd has not made his intentions known.

Arpaio said he believes he remains popular among Republicans, and voters in general, despite the grumblings of “a small group in Mesa that are spreading rumors that all the Republicans are against me.” Republican candidates still seek Arpaio's endorsement, and he remains a popular speaker at Republican gatherings statewide, he said.

“If I am so bad with the Republican Party, why does everybody still want my endorsement?” Arpaio said. “My strength is with the people of Maricopa County. The minute the people don't want me — not the politicians — I go.”

But despite his popularity, Arpaio said he does not take his re-election for granted.

Salmon said he and Martin, a longtime radio disc jockey in the Valley, have been close friends for about eight years. That is why Salmon agreed to head Martin's campaign, Salmon said.

While Arpaio may have high poll numbers, his support is not deep and people are growing weary of his antics, Salmon said. He cited the millions of dollars the county has paid in lawsuits against the sheriff's office, as well as Arpaio's well-publicized acquisition of an armored personnel carrier complete with a .50-caliber machine gun for the department.

“It almost looks like Barney Fife after a while,” Salmon said of Arpaio's tenure. “It's like drilling on people's teeth without Novocaine. It just hits a raw nerve.”

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