(AZCENTRAL) — When the candidates vying to replace Sheriff Joe Arpaio debated before a roomful of lawyers last month, one question came up repeatedly: Who among them had the fundraising prowess to take on the media-savvy sheriff with his massive campaign war chest in November?

Campaign-finance reports filed late last month indicate that former Phoenix police Sgt. Paul Penzone, a Democrat, might be able to compete with the five-term incumbent in raising money from local donors, a sign that his campaign may be gaining traction.

But with the Republican Arpaio continuing to raise about 80 percent of his money from out-of-state donors thanks to his elevated national profile, his potential competitors are staring at a massive deficit that could make it hard to keep up when it comes to hosting events and buying all-important campaign advertising.

Still, some political observers suggest that a low-budget, face-to-face discussion with county voters about local issues might be exactly the kind of campaign that could make Arpaio vulnerable.

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