The scramble to replace Gabrielle Giffords continues; Paul Babeu's outing

The Skinny 

CD 8 SCRAMBLE

Republican Jesse Kelly, the Tea Party darling who narrowly lost to Democrat Gabrielle Giffords in the race for Congressional District 8 in 2010, appears to be favorite in the GOP primary for the special election to finish out Giffords' term following her resignation last month.

Citizens United, a national conservative organization that has endorsed Kelly, released the results of a poll of Congressional District 8 Republicans showing that Kelly had the support of 43 percent of GOP voters. State Sen. Frank Antenori was in second place, with the support of 18 percent of the 700 Republicans surveyed on Feb. 15 and 16.

Sports broadcaster and businessman Dave Sitton came in at 10 percent, while political newcomer and former Air Force fighter pilot Martha McSally had 8 percent in the survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.68 percentage points.

Granted, Citizens United has endorsed Kelly, so you should take the results with a grain of salt. But given that Kelly was the GOP nominee less than two years ago, it's not surprising to The Skinny that he would be out in front of the pack at this point.

The other candidates have one big problem: There's not that much time to change those poll numbers. With the compressed season for the special election, Republican voters will decide the primary on April 17, which means that early voting starts on March 22, or about a month from now.

In an effort to swing some voters in his direction, Antenori unveiled a list of endorsements last week that included several of his GOP colleagues in the Arizona Senate, including Al Melvin, Gail Griffin, Steve Smith and Don Shooter, along with House members Peggy Judd, Terri Proud, David Stevens and Ted Vogt.

Antenori tells The Skinny that he'll be rolling out more endorsements in the upcoming days.

Meanwhile, Sitton picked up a big endorsement earlier this week: He nabbed the support of Trent Humphries, a founder of the Tucson Tea Party who recently stepped aside from his leadership role with the organization.

Humphries' wife, Jennifer Humphries, is the campaign spokesperson for the Sitton campaign.

Humphries, a onetime candidate for the Arizona House of Representatives, is a savvy political organizer who was never that close to Kelly in 2010. The Kelly campaign worked to create different local Tea Party organizations when they realized they wouldn't get support from the Tucson Tea Party.

The winner of the GOP primary is set to face Democrat Ron Barber in the June 12 special election to complete Giffords' term. Barber, who was Giffords' longtime district director, has Giffords' endorsement in the special election.

While that election is playing out, all of the GOP candidates say they'll also be running in the new Congressional District 2 later this year. The new district, created through the state's redistricting process, covers much of the current Congressional District 8, although it does not include conservative-leaning areas in Marana, Oro Valley and SaddleBrooke.

So if the Republicans lose this round, they have a chance at a do-over in fall—if they can persuade their supporters to keep funding them.

Barber has not said whether he'll be running in the new CD 2, although most Democrats don't expect him to get into the race.

Two Democrats have already announced plans to run in CD 2: state Rep. Matt Heinz, and state Sen. Paula Aboud. Other potential Democratic candidates include Nan Stockholm Walden and state Rep. Steve Farley.


PAUL BABEU: OUT AND ABOUT

Pinal County's best-kept secret is out.

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu gained national attention for being a tough-on-immigration leader (some called him a new, shiny-headed version of Sheriff Joe Arpaio), but the attention he got from the Phoenix New Times in a story published last week is the kind of spotlight he's been trying to avoid for most of his life.

Following that report—which focused on Babeu's sexual relationship with an immigrant to whom he sent semi-nude photos, a man who threatened to out the sheriff after their relationship soured—Babeu told a crowd of reporters gathered outside his office last Saturday, Feb. 18, that he was gay.

The report says Babeu, who is running for Congress in the new Congressional District 4, and his lawyer threatened the man, who is only identified as Jose, with deportation if he did not stop posting anonymous comments online about the sheriff's sexuality.

"All these allegations that were in one of these newspapers are absolutely, completely false," Babeu said today. "Except for the issues that refer to me being gay, because that's the truth: I am gay."

Babeu was flanked by supporters, including former and current Republican officeholders and a slew of law-enforcement officials, as he made the statement.

He admitted having a relationship with Jose, who worked as a volunteer for his campaign and ran his social-media accounts, but said that allegations of him harassing or threatening the man with deportation are completely false.

"At no time did I, or anyone who represents me, ever threaten deportation," he said. "This issue is the vehicle in which (my sexuality) could be brought out publicly."

Babeu also said he had no reason to believe Jose was in the country illegally.

As for the Congressman Anthony Weiner-style photos of Babeu, the sheriff said they were sent to Jose, and not meant to be splashed all over the internet.

He admitted posting his own semi-nude photos on a gay-male-meet-up website, which he defended by saying he did it in his private life—not as the Pinal County sheriff. Besides, he said, "I haven't done that for some extreme time."

"I'm not married; I'm a single guy; I don't have a fake girlfriend," he said. "These are things I choose to do. And this is where this should have no business coming out as a front-page story."

Babeu said he supports the right of gays to enter the military and thinks gay marriage should be a state-by-state decision.

Babeu also said the text messages between him and Jose that were printed in the New Times story did not come from a county phone.

One of those text messages revealed that Babeu had dinner and drinks with openly gay Democratic state Rep. Matt Heinz, of Tucson, and Heinz's boyfriend.

Heinz recently announced his own congressional run, for Congressional District 2, in November.

The New Times also cited Heinz as one of only two Democrats to vote on the House floor to give the Pinal County Sheriff's Department $5 million to fight border violence and drug-smuggling last year. The effort had bipartisan support in committees, but Democratic leadership grandstanded against the measure on the floor, saying the money should be given to border counties, or would be better spent elsewhere.

Heinz said he had no comment on the New Times report.

Although Babeu stepped down as the Arizona co-chair of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, he said he would not suspend his congressional campaign or step down as sheriff, and called his coming out and admission of mistakes in his personal life a "moment of truth" which shows how he handles problems—head on.

"It's very difficult and liberating at the same time," he said. "I'm not going to live in fear. I'm not going to live with the threats. ... I'm going to stand and fight. That's who I am."

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