PHOENIX (AP) — Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb said Tuesday he’s running for the U.S. Senate in Arizona, becoming the first Republican to jump into a high-profile race for the seat now held by independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.
Lamb, who has built a profile in Arizona and beyond as a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump and an advocate for cracking down on illegal immigration and drug smuggling, pledged in a video announcing his candidacy to take on drug cartels, calling for the U.S. military to “wipe them out just like we did to ISIS.”
The Arizona race is a top target for Republicans looking to take control of the Senate, which Democrats control 51-49, including Sinema and two other independents who generally vote with Democrats. The 2024 Senate map heavily favors the GOP, with Democratic-held seats up for grabs in three states Trump won.
Sinema, who left the Democratic Party in December after her relationship with many members of the party ruptured, is raising money for a potential reelection campaign but has not said whether she will seek a second term. U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego is the only Democrat in the race. He said last week he raised $3.7 million in the first quarter.
Fast-growing Pinal County is sandwiched between the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas. Its small agricultural and mining towns have been dwarfed in recent decades by master-planned exurbs and retirement communities where newcomers gobble up affordable homes. While the county is not on the U.S.-Mexico border, it has a number of active drug and human smuggling routes through remote desert terrain.
Lamb is a fixture in border-themed television ads that show him walking through the desert, rifle in hand, with Republican candidates. The border played a prominent role in his campaign launch, which presented him as a lawman with firsthand experience taking on dangerous cartels and confronting the fentanyl scourge.
“We need leaders in this country that aren’t too politically correct to protect us,” Lamb said in his announcement video.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020, Lamb refused to enforce Republican then-Gov. Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order. He also created a streaming service called “American Sheriff Network” to highlight the work of law enforcement agencies.
Lamb could wind up in a crowded Republican primary and will likely face a formidable fight for the GOP nomination.
Kari Lake, a former television news anchor who became a star among many Republicans before losing the 2022 race for governor, is considering a Senate run and would be the immediate front-runner. Others considering running include Blake Masters, Jim Lamon and Karrin Taylor Robson, who lost 2022 races for Senate or governor.
All of Lamb’s potential Republican rivals have, to varying degrees, something the sheriff lacks — easy access to large sums of money. Lake can raise it from her legion of fans, while the other potential candidates have personal fortunes or benefactors they can draw from. Lamb’s ability to raise money will be an early test of his viability.
Lamb said he’s confident he can win no matter which other Republicans decide to run because he can talk with authority about issues related to the border.
“There’s nobody better suited for the border, to deal with this crisis, to fight against the fentanyl, to stop the poisoning of our loved ones,” Lamb told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Despite his aggressive proposals to send the military to attack drug cartels, Lamb said the U.S. should work in partnership with the Mexican government.
Arizona Republicans have embraced Trump’s false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, last year nominating for statewide offices a slate of candidates who put election conspiracies at the center of their campaigns. All lost in the general election, prompting fears in some Republican circles of a repeat that could hinder their path to a Senate majority.
Lake has continued to aggressively push claims of interference in her own election loss last year that have been rejected by courts.
Lamb appeared to distance himself from election conspiracies this month, saying he hasn’t seen evidence of “material, large-scale fraud” that he could take to a jury. Lamb’s own Pinal County had serious issues last year that were blamed on ineptitude rather than fraud.
“Where I thought there was smoke, I looked for fire,” Lamb said in an interview with the Phoenix Fox affiliate. “I got involved with some of the groups that were actively out saying they had evidence. To this day, I’ve never been provided any evidence of significant material fraud.”
On Tuesday, however, Lamb told the AP he was talking only about Pinal County and sidestepped questions about whether voters can trust that the last two elections were fair.
“I don’t get into other people’s business,” Lamb said. “I focus on what’s happening in our county.”
Lamb experienced tragedy late last year when his 22-year-old son, the son’s fiancée and their 1-year-old daughter were killed in a car crash. He said his son, Cooper Lamb, had struggled with fentanyl use and spent time in jail but had been sober for more than a year before the crash.