Two battle-scarred veterans of Arizona’s often vicious wars over immigration and the border are drawing fresh fire as they prepare for what may be their last campaign together.
Russell Pearce, the 64-year-old former state Senate president who wrote the state’s highly polarizing anti-illegal immigration law, confirmed this week that he would seek to regain his legislative seat after losing a recall fight in November, telling supporters, “It’s been a nice vacation, but it’s time to get back to work.”
Standing with him onstage at the Red Mountain Tea Party meeting in Mesa was 79-year-old Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has earned a national reputation with his tough methods dealing with illegal immigrants and is facing a tough re-election fight for a sixth term as Maricopa County sheriff.
Just outside the packed auditorium was the leader of the opposition, Citizens for a Better Arizona‘s Randy Parraz, who plans to spend the next nine months ensuring that both Republicans head off to unwanted retirements in November.
Even though Mr. Pearce, best known as the author of Senate Bill 1070, Arizona’s tough anti-illegal immigration law that has been challenged by the Obama administration in court, lost his recall election just four months ago, he faces a significantly improved political landscape for the 2012 race.
In the recall, he faced just one opponent, Jerry Lewis, a relatively unknown fellow Mormon Republican who enjoyed strong support from Democrats and independents determined to oust Mr. Pearce. This year, Mr. Pearce, who now heads a group called Ban Amnesty Now, competes first in the Republican primary to be held Aug. 28, in which only Republicans and independents may vote.
The redistricting process placed Mr. Pearce in a staunchly conservative Mesa-based district that doesn’t include Mr. Lewis. The winner of the Republican primary is widely expected to coast to victory in the general election.
“Whoever is running in this new district, they are going to have a fair fight this time. This won’t be a primary election where the other party comes in and controls it. And as long as there is a fair fight, Russell Pearce is going to win,” Senate GOP Majority Leader Andy Biggs told the Arizona Republic newspaper.
So far Mr. Pearce has one Republican opponent, Internet retailer Bob Worsley, the founder of SkyMall who announced his candidacy online Monday. Republican state Sen. Rich Crandall, a moderate who also resides in the district, announced this week he wouldn’t run and threw his support behind Mr. Worsley.
Mr. Pearce‘s strategy so far appears to be emphasizing the economy, rather than illegal immigration, his signature issue. After the tea party meeting, he told local reporters that his campaign focus would be “jobs, jobs, jobs.”
“I like Russell Pearce‘s chances in a Republican primary,” said Republican political consultant Jason Rose. “I’m already starting to see comments from Pearce—he’s talking about jobs and the economy. Not that he’ll ever shy away from immigration, but he’s reminding people that he’s a Republican for lots of other reasons.”
In the Maricopa County sheriff’s race, three other candidates—two Democrats and an Independent—have indicated they will challenge Mr. Arpaio, who so far has not drawn a Republican challenger. If the other candidates are able to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot by May 31, a crowded race would aid the sheriff by splitting the anti-Arpaio vote.
Money may be the key factor in defeating Mr. Arpaio, whose national reputation as “America’s toughest sheriff” has helped him raise a massive war chest that tops $4 million. The sheriff has attracted fresh scrutiny recently for his investigation into the validity of President Obama’s birth certificate, but he has also won kudos for his work against animal cruelty, which can be his ace in the hole with unaffiliated voters.