(CBSNEWS) — FLORENCE, Ariz. – Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu built a reputation as a rising, conservative star by taking a hardline stance against illegal immigration, attacking the Obama administration and appearing alongside Sen. John McCain in a 2010 re-election ad in which McCain urged federal officials to just “complete the danged fence.”

But, on Saturday, Babeu’s conservative image took a beating as he was forced to confirm publicly that he is gay and was involved in a relationship with a Mexican immigrant who claims the sheriff threatened to have him deported if he revealed their relationship.

Babeu denies any wrongdoing, and has vowed to continue his battle for the GOP nomination in an extremely conservative rural congressional district. He recognizes he is fighting an uphill battle, especially in a state where family values, as defined by a large evangelical Christian and Mormon population, often battle fierce, anti-immigrant beliefs to define conservatism.

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