A bizarre scandal has struck Mitt Romney's campaign in Arizona, just four days before a crucial Republican presidential debate. According to the Phoenix New Times, an illegal Mexican immigrant claims that he was threatened with deportation if he refused to be silent about a homosexual affair with the sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona.
Sheriff Paul Babeu, who had been co-chairman of Romney's Arizona campaign, resigned from that position Saturday and admitted he is homosexual, but denied that he or his lawyer had threatened to deport the Mexican man with whom he had been sexually involved. David Catanese of Politico reports:
"All of the allegations are false except one, I am gay," Babeu said.
The nationally renowned Pinal County Sheriff called a news conference to address the explosive story by The Phoenix New Times that he pressured a man only identified as "Jose" into signing an agreement to conceal their relationship or face deportation.
The piece, posted late Friday, also includes text messages Babeu exchanged with the man and pictures he posted on online gay websites.
Babeu repeatedly sidestepped questions about his personal life but acknowledged a relationship with the man in question.
"What I do in my personal life and private life is my business," he said.
Sheriff Babeu resigned his volunteer position with the Romney campaign, but said he would continue his GOP primary challenge in Arizona's 4th Congressional District against freshman Rep. Paul Gosar.
The scandal is a major embarrassment to Romney, who is due to appear Wednesday in a debate in Mesa, Arizona, to be televised on CNN. The former Massachusetts governor had benefitted from the endorsement of Sheriff Babeu, who had a reputation as a fierce opponent of illegal immigration. Yet the sheriff has now admitted a gay affair with a man whom he knew to be an illegal immigrant.
Although Romney had been expected easily to win the Feb. 28 Arizona primary, the latest Rasmussen poll showed former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum rapidly closing the gap after defeating Romney Feb. 7 in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado.