A powerful Republican state Senate leader who championed Arizona’s controversial crackdown on illegal immigrants lost his office on Tuesday in a historic recall election, returns showed. Russell Pearce’s defeat is a message to the GOP, say some analysts, that jobs and the economy should be a higher priority than illegal immigrants.
With all precincts reporting, state Senate President Russell Pearce was trailing his chief challenger, Republican newcomer and charter school administrator Jerry Lewis, by 7 percentage points, 45.4 percent to 52.4 percent.
Still, Pearce conceded his ouster in remarks to supporters late on Tuesday, saying, “It doesn’t look like the numbers are going my direction in this, and I’m OK with that.”
“I intend to spend a little time with my God, my wife and my family and reassess where we need to go,” he added. Later, a Pearce campaign spokesman confirmed that this was his concession speech.
The race in the conservative Phoenix suburb of Mesa is believed to be the first recall election ever mounted against a state legislator in Arizona.
Pearce waged an all-out battle to retain his seat in a heavily Republican district of about 70,000 registered voters.
The 64-year-old politician, first elected to the state legislature in 2000, vehemently defended his get-tough stance on illegal immigrants flowing across the U.S.-Mexico border, a phenomenon he called “a national crisis.”
He branded his political opponents as “far left liberals” and labor union activists, and chastised the recall election coming when he has just one year left in his current term.
Lewis, 55, has maintained that residents could not afford to wait until the next election to replace a man who he said has tarnished Arizona’s image.