Mesa Republican Jerry Lewis remains the underdog in the recall election targeting Senate President Russell Pearce, but he improved his standing a bit last week when a fellow candidate dropped out of the race and instead endorsed him.
Hobbled by what he said were fundraising difficulties and the inability to attract meaningful endorsements, independent candidate Tommy Cattey decided to end his short-lived candidacy for the Senate seat currently held by Pearce, one of the most powerful politicians in Arizona. In a hastily organized press conference Friday morning, Cattey said he doesn’t want to risk “splitting” the vote against Pearce.
There was more good news for Lewis on Friday, as Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Hugh Hegyi rejected efforts by Pearce’s allies to halt the Nov. 8 special election. Pearce’s supporters had asserted that the recall petitions submitted by Citizens for a Better Arizona were defective because they didn’t strictly comply with constitutional requirements.
In short, Round 1 went to Lewis, a charter school executive who is considered to be the frontrunner among those who are challenging Pearce in the special election.
But no one should regard these events as anything more than momentary triumphs for Lewis.
Cattey, who is little known in the distict, didn’t have the backing of any major political organization so his endorsement means far less than his decision not to put his name on the ballot, where it could have fragmented the anti-Pearce vote.
Meanwhile, Lisa Hauser, the attorney who is challenging the recall petitions on behalf of a Pearce supporter, already made clear that she will appeal last Friday’s court ruling to the Arizona Supreme Court.
That said, observers shouldn’t be entirely dismissive of Lewis’s gains either. Like any political derby, the candidate who does a better job of shaping the narrative of the race will have a significant advantage. His early campaign strategy is a staple of politics: Don’t let your opponent define you. And Cattey’s endorsement, while it doesn’t carry with it a groundswell of support, at least helps to bolster Lewis’s narrative that he is a serious and credible foe to Pearce.