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Trump touts Babeu's debate praise, after sheriff says 'comments not acceptable - period'

Sheriff distanced himself from Trump over lewd remarks, then deleted tweet

Just after Sunday night's presidential debate, the campaign of Donald Trump released praise for the Republican nominee's performance from Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu — despite the CD1 candidate's quickly deleted Saturday tweet that he would write in Mike Pence instead of vote for Trump in the wake of audiotape of Trump bragging about sexual assaults.

Babeu had tweeted that "Donald Trump's comments are reprehensible. They have no place in our public discourse. I will be writing in Mike Pence for President." That message was later deleted, with Babeu posting on Facebook that "campaign staff tweeted out draft comment without sheriff's approval."

"I will vote for Trump over Hillary any-day (sic)," Babeu replied to a commenter.

Still, Babeu led his post by maintaining that "Trump's comments are not acceptable - period."

About 30 minutes after the Sunday-night debate between Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Trump's campaign released praise for his performance from both former Gov. Jan Brewer and Babeu.

"America saw Donald Trump as the strong leader who will defeat ISIS, strengthen our borders, and make America safe again," Babeu told the campaign. "Hillary Clinton cannot run from the failed policies and weakness that weakened our national security, disrespected our veterans, and emboldened our enemies. The American people will vote for Donald Trump because we want a strong leader who will defend our country and bring back jobs."

Of the tweet, the Democratic contender in the broad CD1 — which ranges from Tucson's suburbs to Flagstaff and beyond to the Grand Canyon and the Utah border — said that it was Babeu's "transparent attempt to distance himself from Donald Trump's imploding campaign."

The statement, apparently later reversed by Babeu, was "far too late," said Tom O'Halleran, a former Republican who registered as an independent before becoming a Democrat and entering the congressional race.

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"It should come as no surprise that a man who laughed about and praised child abuse and then denied responsibility is among the last to recognize Donald Trump's actions as inexcusable," said O'Halleran, referencing videotape of Babeu describing brutal discipline at a Massachusetts school at which the sheriff was once the headmaster.

Of the deleted tweet, "first he hides, then he denies, then he lies," O’Halleran said. "Babeu has always blamed others and claimed no responsibility for his actions…. and now he’s doing it with his inability to decide where he stands with Donald Trump."

Other GOP politicians have moved to create greater distance between themselves and Trump, including U.S. Sen. John McCain, who followed a Friday denunciation of Trump's bragging about sexual assault by withdrawing his declaration of support on Saturday.

"I will not vote for Donald Trump," McCain said.

"Trump's behavior this week, concluding with the disclosure of his demeaning comments about women and his boasts about sexual assaults, make it impossible to continue to offer even conditional support for his candidacy," McCain said.

McCain had blasted Trump for the comments — which included his account of attempting to seduce a married woman and remarks that he could "grab them by the pussy. You can do anything."

First reported by the Washington Post, the 2005 tape shows Trump bragging that "Just kiss. I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything."

Southern Arizona's Republican congresswoman Martha McSally has tried to walk a tightrope regarding Trump, saying earlier that she would neither endorse nor oppose him.

Friday night, she tweeted that "Trump's comments are disgusting. Joking about sexual assault is unacceptable. I'm appalled." She did not issue further comment regarding her opinion of his candidacy.

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Stephanie Fernandez/Cronkite News and Rebekah Zemansky/TucsonSentinel.com

Babeu and Trump.