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Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio’s political fate rests in the hands of the voters

FILE - In this July 21, 2016 file photo, Phoenix, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio walks on the stage to speak during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Arpaio disbanded a SWAT team that focused on handling dangerous jail inmates at a time when the elite unit was in high demand due to a spike in assaults by inmates on guards, records show. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

PHOENIX  — Sheriff Joe Arpaio is awaiting his political fate, hoping a criminal contempt charge weeks before Election Day doesn’t upend his chances for a seventh term.

The Maricopa County sheriff is facing his toughest bid for re-election in 20 years Tuesday against retired Phoenix police Sgt. Paul Penzone.

Arpaio has experienced his worst legal defeats over the last four years, including a criminal contempt-of-court charge for defying a court order that barred his immigration patrols.

He represents the last vestige of a decade-old political movement in Arizona that called for local police to crack down on illegal immigration.

His popularity has waned over the past few elections, but a devoted base of supporters and impressive campaign fundraising have helped him pull out wins.

However, this year his opponent has had the backing of some deep pocket contributors including New Yorker George Soros, whose political action committee has contributed $2 million to anti-Arpaio efforts and $1 million against Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

An anti-Arpaio flier accused him of being “obsessed with immigrants at the expense of his job” and of making “immigrant communities scared to report crime for fear they will be harassed by the Sheriff’s Office.”

Politico wrote Arpaio has spent $2.8 million on TV ads. As of August, he had raised $10 million for his re-election campaign, the majority of it coming from outside Arizona.

Penzone ran against Arpaio, 84, in 2012 and captured almost 45 percent of the votes, the closest any rival has come to the incumbent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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