Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb of Arizona announced Tuesday that he is running for Senate, becoming the first major Republican candidate to enter the race for the seat held by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.).
He may soon find himself in a crowded Republican primary that probably will include former TV anchor Kari Lake, who lost her bid for governor in 2022 but is seen as a strong contender in the Senate primary.
In an announcement video, Lamb referred to his deceased son, who had struggled with drug addiction, and Lamb touted his law enforcement experience as a sheriff in a border state. “I know what deadly drugs and the criminals peddling it are doing to families and communities,” he said, calling for the United States to use “military force” against cartels in Mexico and to build a border wall.
The winner of the Republican primary could end up in a three-way race in 2024, facing off against Sinema, who has not yet said whether she is running for reelection, and Rep. Ruben Gallego (Ariz.), who is running for the Democratic nomination.
Lamb has developed a higher profile on the right in recent years through frequent appearances on Fox News to decry illegal immigration and offer spirited defenses of Donald Trump, and through the creation of his own reality TV channel offering law enforcement content. He has been criticized for expressing support for private militias and refusing to enforce some laws, including shutdown orders during the coronavirus pandemic.
While the cowboy-hat-wearing sheriff initially questioned and protested the 2020 presidential election results and expressed sympathy for people rioting at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, he has since acknowledged in a congressional hearing that he saw no evidence of fraud that would have swung the election. That is a key difference between him and Lake, who is weighing her own run for the Senate seat while pursuing a so-far-losing legal challenge and making unproven claims of widespread impropriety in the gubernatorial election.
In an interview, Lamb clarified that he said there was no fraud in Pinal County, but that he did not know whether there was widespread fraud in other counties that could have swung the 2020 presidential election, as Trump has falsely claimed. “I only focus on what is in our county,” Lamb said.
A probe by the Republican state attorney general at the time found no evidence of such fraud, and former Trump administration officials have said publicly that they knew the president’s claims of fraud were false.
Lamb said he is not endorsing Trump in his reelection bid because he does not get involved in primaries.
In 2022, Lamb backed Lake and Blake Masters, a venture capitalist, in their failed bids for governor and Senate, respectively. Both candidates, who ran far-right campaigns, have not ruled out running for Sinema’s seat.
Lake, a key Trump ally who alienated some of the state’s more moderate Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, would be considered the front-runner in the primary if she enters. She has served as an enthusiastic surrogate for Trump, sparking speculation that she is auditioning to be his running mate in 2024.
“If I was a betting man, which I’m not, I’d bet the farm that Kari Lake ends up running for Senate,” Lake senior adviser Colton Duncan said in a statement. “I’m 99 percent sure she’ll run, and if she does, I’m 100 percent certain she will win. However, right now Kari is entirely dedicated to her legal battle.”
Lamb declined to say how he would be a better candidate than Lake and said he would avoid losing as she and Masters did in 2022 by focusing on “election integrity” issues such as limiting the amount of time early ballots can be handed in.
“I would continue to fight for election integrity, because that’s what the people of Arizona want,” he said.
The three would be fighting for precious real estate in the far-right lane of the GOP primary. Karrin Taylor Robson, a developer who lost to Lake in the 2022 primary as a more moderate candidate, and businessman Jim Lamon have also not publicly ruled out runs. A representative for Taylor Robson, who met with the National Republican Senatorial Committee last month, told The Washington Post on Monday she is still considering jumping into the race.
Lamb is already touting his law enforcement experience and focus on the U.S.-Mexico border to distinguish himself from his rivals in a state where GOP primary voters count immigration and border security as top issues. He said he “understands that issue better than anybody else.”
“He’s an imposing figure, especially in his sheriff’s uniform and cowboy hat,” said Barrett Marson, a GOP strategist in Arizona who counts the Arizona Sheriffs’ Association as a client. “He has walked the walk and talked the talk on border security and fighting crime, and that is what differentiates him from anyone else in the potential field.”
Lake and others may attack Lamb for “hypocrisy” on allying with Trump’s “Stop the Steal” movement but more recently conceding he did not see evidence of widespread fraud, according to another Lake adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. Many Arizona Republicans still think there was fraud.
He will need to raise far more money than he has ever had to before to mount a competitive campaign, however. Lamb said he had a-year-and-a half to introduce himself to Arizonans and improve his name recognition in the state.