FACT CHECK: Did Sheriff Joe Arpaio Lose A ‘Fairly Close Election’?

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

During a press conference Monday, President Donald Trump claimed that former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio lost in a “fairly close election.”

Verdict: Unsubstantiated

Although some journalists were quick to rate Trump’s statement as false, there’s ambiguity to his claim. Election polls showed a competitive race, but Arpaio later fell behind as it became more likely he would face criminal prosecution.

Fact Check:

At a press conference Monday, Trump discussed his decision to pardon Arpaio, a six-term sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. A federal court convicted Arpaio of criminal contempt in July for refusing to comply with a court order to stop traffic patrols that targeted illegal immigrants.

Trump argued that Arpaio, who lost a reelection bid in 2016, was “unfairly treated” by the Obama administration because the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a decision to prosecute Arpaio on charges of contempt just before early voting began.

Trump argued that Arpaio would have won a “fairly close election” were it not for the decision.

“I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly when they came down with their big decision to go get him right before the election voting started,” Trump said. “And he lost in a fairly close election. He would have won the election, but they hammered him just before the election.”

Several journalists were quick to dispute Trump’s claim that the election was fairly close, noting on Twitter how Arpaio ultimately lost by 11 points.

Trump, however, may not have meant the final election results when he called it a “fairly close election.” In context, he could have meant the 2016 race was competitive sometime before Arpaio was “unfairly treated.”

This ambiguity matters because even though Arpaio eventually lost by a sizeable margin, a handful of polls during the campaign showed a tight race.

One poll taken in early August of last year showed Arpaio leading by five points, while another poll had his Democratic challenger leading by four points. These results were within the margin of error, so the race was a statistical dead heat.

“Evidence is mounting that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is headed into a close re-election battle,” a local news outlet reported in August 2016.

Later that month, a Republican-appointed judge recommended that Arpaio be prosecuted for criminal contempt – an offense that carries a sentence of up to six months in prison – as part of a racial profiling lawsuit Arpaio had been fighting since 2007.

After the DOJ announced on Oct. 11 of 2016 that it would prosecute Arpaio, a poll showed the sheriff trailing by 15 points.

Trump argued this decision unfairly disadvantaged Arpaio right before an election, a sentiment shared by Arpaio, who during the campaign claimed the timing was politically motivated.

“First and foremost, it is clear that the corrupt Obama Justice Department is trying to influence my re-election as Sheriff of Maricopa County,” read a campaign statement from Arpaio. “It is no coincidence that this announcement comes 28 days before the election and the day before early voting starts.”

Polling showed that Arpaio was behind in the race before the DOJ announcement. Arpaio trailed by nine points in a September poll and 10 points in a poll from early October.

If Trump meant the race was “fairly close” in the weeks before the election, these two polls suggest otherwise. But if he meant the race was generally competitive, then yes, it was “fairly close” before a judge recommended Arpaio be prosecuted for criminal contempt.

Some journalists were quick to rate Trump’s claim as false, but without more information, The Daily Caller News Foundation cannot establish a definitive verdict.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor
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