Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio says that Tom Morrissey deserves a second term as Arizona Republican Party chairman when party activists meet in January to decide whether to keep Morrissey as their leader or replace him.
It’s the first major endorsement Morrissey secured since announcing in November that he would seek a second term.
His opponent, businessman Robert Graham, has already locked down the support of a handful of influential lawmakers, including House Majority Leader-elect David Gown and House Speaker Pro Tem-elect J.D. Mesnard.
Graham, who is aggressively courting conservative activists, also got the backing of Rob Haney, the chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Party who has a strong following among the party’s grassroots.
Because of his endorsements and a tumultuous two years with Morrissey at the helm of the Arizona GOP, many observers believe Graham is the front-runner in the race.
But Arpaio’s support for Morrissey could help the current chairman show that party bigwigs haven’t abandoned his boat.
In endorsing Morrissey, Arpaio highlighted the gains the party made in the last elections, such as capturing statewide positions, holding on to the U.S. Senate seat and winning Arizona for Mitt Romney.
“If that’s not a successful first term, I don’t know what is,” Arpaio said in a written statement sent out by Morrissey.
The popular county sheriff, who was also re-elected last November, said he and Morrissey have worked together in raising funds and helping out the party’s candidates.
He described Morrissey as a “strong, trustworthy leader who knows how to deliver victory for our Republican candidates.”
Morissey says the party needs continuity and has emphasized how, during his tenure, Republicans successfully defended seats in the recent elections.
Meanwhile, Graham, a successful businessman who briefly ran for governor in 2009, is pitching his candidacy as an antidote to the state party’s lackluster fundraising record. He has also promised to bring “cohesion” to the party by uniting the conservative and moderate wings.
In an interview last month with the Yellow Sheet Report, a sister publication of the Capitol Times, Graham disputed the notion that the parties are becoming irrelevant in politics, and said it’s a conversation he’s had at least a dozen times with potential contributors, who are itching for the state GOP to return to relevance.
“They want a vehicle they know will be focused solely on getting the job done,” he said.
The key to that is showing that the party can be trusted, will be transparent, and will be victorious, he said: “If people don’t trust you, they’re not going to give you money. I think [trust] has been lacking for the last two years, for sure.”
The election for the party’s next leaders — its chairman, secretary treasurer — is January 26.
Arizona News Service Editor Jim Small contributed to this article.