Two longtime Arizona pollsters say the odds are stacked against former Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce in his campaign to return to the legislature.
The public opinion researchers say Pearce’s loyal supporters can’t be dismissed, but that the successful November 2011 recall damaged the Mesa Republican.
And it proved that a coalition of moderate Republicans, independents and Hispanics can defeat a more conservative candidate, said Bruce Merrill, a senior research fellow at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy.
Politicians who supported Pearce at his recent re-election announcement, held Monday at an east Mesa tea party gathering, dismissed the recall as an aberration that couldn’t be repeated. Opponent Jerry Lewis beat Pearce by 12 percent.
Merrill said that can happen again, even in the Aug. 28 Republican primary that will pit Pearce against SkyMall founder Bob Worsley.
“A lot of the people who were voting for Lewis were obviously voting against Russell Pearce,” Merrill said. “There’s no evidence in my mind that it’s going to change again.”
Arizona Senate majority leader Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said Pearce’s odds in the primary are better than in the recall, where non-Republicans could vote.
“It’s going to be a straight up, fair fight,” Biggs said. “As long as it’s a fair fight, Russell Pearce is going to win that fight.”
Merrill said Pearce’s odds are best if turnout is low in the primary. Pearce supporters are likely to stick with him – and turn out at the polls – no matter what, he said.
A higher turnout would indicate more moderate Republican voters and potentially supporters generated by the Worsley campaign.
“If he gets good advice, he’s going to be very difficult to beat,” Merrill said.
Worsley has never run for office, like Lewis. But both are active in the Mormon church and have strong civic ties, Merrill said.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints played an important role in the recall, Merrill said. It’s the nation’s fastest-growing church and wants to court Hispanic converts. But he said Pearce’s rhetoric was a dilemma for the church and its members.
“The issue is the tone and the harshness,” he said. “If you go back and look from a couple of the analysis I’ve seen post-election, a majority of the Republicans in the district voted for Jerry Lewis,” Merrill said.
Pearce said he welcomes Worsley into the race. However, Pearce said he got 77 percent of the GOP vote in the recall.
The turnout will be key in the election, said Earl de Berge, research director of the Phoenix-based Behavior Research Center. He expects Pearce will face troubles because growing numbers of independent voters are upset because they believe too many politicians focus on narrow issues.
“It’s hard to imagine the process he went through is going to be helpful,” de Berge said.
The primary will be key in the Republican-dominated Mesa district. Democrats are outvoted by wide margins, so the victor in the Republican primary is almost guaranteed to become the next lawmaker.
Merrill said Arizona wrongly has an image as a far-right state. The primary process leads to extremes in both parties, but Merrill said polls consistently show a majority of moderates. As an example, he said Arizonans are pro-choice by a 2-1 margin no matter how he asks the question.
“There’s a hell of a lot more moderates than there are these right-wing evangelicals,” Merrill said.
Pearce’s announcement included Hispanic Republicans who said it’s a mistake to assume all Latinos are liberals who support open borders. Many Latinos support stiffer immigration enforcement, said Haydee Dawson, treasurer of the Arizona Latino Republican Association.
“For those in the media who do not know we exist, we exist,” she said.
Pearce said he’ll continue to fight for all the things he’s stood for in spite of the recall.
In his Monday announcement before a crowd of hundreds, he said he would fight for greater freedom, more school choice, lower taxes, limited government and states’ rights. He invoked the founding fathers and said a revolution is needed to restore the founding principles of limited government.
“Things are this bad because we’ve allowed them to get this bad,” Pearce said. “Let’s take it back. Let’s not apologize anymore.”
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he is recognized for SB 1070 and other immigration laws, but that Pearce is the one who deserves credit for passing the bills.
“One thing we need in this country are fighters. Never surrender,” Arpaio said.
Pearce said he has enjoyed new duties since leaving office, including speaking engagements, a weekly radio program and serving as president of the Valley-based Ban Amnesty Now, which promotes tougher policies regarding illegal immigrants.
Several lawmakers portrayed last year’s recall as a wide-spread and troubling effort to help liberals across the state.
While Pearce made his announcement at a Mesa charter school, a small group of protestors with a bullhorn called Pearce a “racist.”
Recall organizer Randy Parraz of Citizens for a Better Arizona has been talking with District 25 voters and said he’ll consider campaigning against Pearce if Mesa residents ask for assistance.
On Twitter, Mesa City Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh said Pearce hasn’t won over city officials.
“I predict that Russell Pearce will not be endorsed by any member of the Mesa City Council in this new race in District 25,” Kavanaugh said. “When (Pearce) fails to be endorsed by any of the city council I am sure he will accuse us of being under the influence of evil forces.”
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