Embattled Arizona sheriff will not run for Congress

PHOENIX Fri May 11, 2012 2:02pm EDT

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu speaks during a news conference near the Superstition Mountains where rescue workers searched for victims of a plane crash in Apache Junction, Arizona November 24, 2011. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu speaks during a news conference near the Superstition Mountains where rescue workers searched for victims of a plane crash in Apache Junction, Arizona November 24, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Joshua Lott

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PHOENIX (Reuters) - A tough-on-immigration Arizona sheriff, who resigned as co-chairman of Mitt Romney's state campaign in February after allegations he threatened a male lover with deportation, on Friday dropped his bid to become a Republican congressional candidate.

Embattled Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu told supporters in a letter posted on his website that he would instead seek re-election to a second term as sheriff.

"The most important issues, our performance and results as sheriff, have brought our sheriff's office to prominence and this must continue," the letter said.

"Many Pinal residents have asked me to stay as their sheriff and continue this fight ... many worried that my voice and impact would be lost if elected as one of 435 members of Congress," it said.

Babeu, considered a strong candidate to win the Republican nomination for a congressional seat this year, was due to challenge U.S. Representative Paul Gosar in the August 28 primary.

In February, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said his office was opening an investigation into Babeu's conduct, specifically "allegations of human rights violations, threatening and intimidating, misuse of public resources, theft of property, theft of identity, fraud and impersonation."

Babeu, who requested an investigation, acknowledged at the time that he is gay and had a personal relationship with his accuser. Local media described the former lover as a Mexican national.

Before the disclosures, Babeu was co-chair of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Romney's campaign in Arizona.

But the lawman, a strong critic of the administration of President Barack Obama's stance on immigration, denied he or his lawyer threatened to deport the former lover to Mexico if he talked about their relationship.

Babeu appeared in a 2010 campaign ad for Republican U.S. Senator John McCain that called for tighter border security and urged the Obama administration to "complete the danged fence" on the border with Mexico.

The television spot, which showed McCain and Babeu walking a stretch of the boundary fence in Nogales, raised some eyebrows in Arizona as Pinal County does not border Mexico.

(Reporting by Edith Honan and Tim Gaynor; Editing by Greg McCune)

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