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Home / Opinion / Commentary / The 12% solution: Russell Pearce may not be as formidable as he appears

The 12% solution: Russell Pearce may not be as formidable as he appears

The operative assumption of most observers of the Russell Pearce recall election has been that Pearce is the odds-on favorite to retain his seat. He hails from a heavily Mormon, conservative, Republican district and has, after all, regularly won elections handily.

Let’s examine a few simple facts to see how tenuous these assumptions are. In the last election, Pearce received 17,552 votes. His Democratic challenger received 10,663 and an independent received 2,808.  That would seem, at first blush, to be a very healthy margin.

It is now clear that Jerry Lewis has emerged as the sole viable alternative to Pearce in the recall election. One scenario for a Lewis victory could look like this: Assume that Lewis picks up the 2010 Democratic and independent vote. What percent of Pearce’s vote would have to defect to Lewis for him to beat Pearce? If Lewis got just 12 percent of Pearce’s vote, he would end up with 15,557 votes (10,663+2,808+12% of 17,552) to Pearce’s 15,446. Does anyone believe that a conservative, Mormon, Republican challenger with deep community ties could not convert 12 percent of Pearce’s 2010 vote?

Many of Pearce’s 2010 voters were undoubtedly down-the-line Republican stalwarts who would never vote for any Democrat, as opposed to being ardent Pearce adherents. Certainly more than 12 percent of them are in this category.

These calculations are driven by the one important way that a recall election differs from a traditional election: there is no primary election. There is a single vote without a runoff. The candidate with the most votes wins.

Of course, there are assumptions built in to this observation. First, it assumes that Democrats and independents will actually come out and vote in the recall election in the same proportion that they did in 2010. But this is not all that far-fetched: 2010 was a dismal year for Democrats, mainly due to low rates of Democratic turnout. (The most underreported political story of the 2010 election is that the lion’s share of the difference between the Republican landslide of 2010 and the Democratic landslide of 2008 was not in voters switching allegiances, but in differential turnout. Put simply, Democrats were energized in 2008 and Republicans were not. The reverse was true in 2010. And these differences account for the 2008 Democratic rout and the 2010 Republican sweep).

Two alternative scenarios, however, would bolster Pearce’s prospects. The above calculations assume that Lewis captures the entire 2010 Democratic and independent vote. No one ever gets 100 percent of anything. So, in reality, Lewis would need a bit more than 12 percent of Pearce’s 2010 vote to prevail. To the extent that he gets less than 100 percent of these votes, he simply has to convert proportionately more of Pearce’s 2010 base.

More significantly, Pearce supporters have put Olivia Cortes — a third candidate — on the ballot. Cortes’ sole purpose is to split the anti-Pearce vote. The candidate is a Hispanic woman who has been unavailable to the press. Supporters have paid for and placed signs throughout the district, in Spanish. While she clearly has no chance of winning, whatever votes she does garner will pull votes only from anti-Pearce Democrats and independents, mostly Hispanic. Every anti-Pearce vote she pulls changes the 12 percent arithmetic.

The second Pearce scenario would occur if the recall electorate were to more closely resemble the 2010 primary rather than general election voters. Pearce got 10,636 votes in the primary. And two Democratic opponents split only 4,119 votes. If the November 2010 recall electorate resembles this group, Lewis will have a much more formidable task.

Given the level of attention that this election is getting, however, it seems likely it will pull more voters than an uncontested Republican primary or a contested Democratic one in which the winner had virtually no chance of winning in November. And the bigger the turnout (especially among Democrats and independents), the more Pearce is likely to lose.

— Michael O’Neil, president of Tempe-based polling firm O’Neil Associates, is operating an independent expenditure group targeting Russell Pearce in the recall.

5 comments

  1. I agree with this scenario with one small tweak. That would be that perhaps the Hispanic vote will increase due to the tremendous impact this election could have on Hispanics in general here in Arizona. In working with the Hispanic community, I see a community that is energized. Not only that, they are beginning to become more and more informed. An informed electorate is antithetical to corrupt politicians on either side. Americans still seek honesty and integrity when they consider candidates for voting purposes- – something clearly lacking in the Tea Partiers from LD18 and LD19.

    Simply stated, no longer is Mr. Pearce a foregone conclusion. Rather, as evidenced by the efforts to advance Ms. Cortes, the Pearce faithful are definitely running scared. Even Franklin Ross, the plaintiff in the recall challenge, noted during the Cortes hearing that without Cortes, Mr. Pearce is finished. His statement may very well be prophetic (albeit that the statement was clearly devoid of any divine inspiration – - – that inspiration is reserved for more honorable folks).

  2. those were different times in 2008 and 2010 and the only reason why they are different than now is because Pearce is running against a mormon publican conservative….that’s why!… you forgot to mention that.

  3. Russell Pearce is one of those honorable folks.
    Pearce faithful are not “running scared”.
    We, “the faithful”, have not only faith in
    Russell Pearce, but complete confidence in
    his ability to trounce this recall.
    When you fight for what is right, the cards
    are stacked on your side, Mr. Richardson.

  4. Conservatives are tired of the attacks on our families, businesses, flag, and faith. Just like 2010, the Silent Majority will show up and vote against union outsiders coming into our state to influence our elections (book “Blueprint”-true story in Colorado). MoveOn.org, SEIU, La Raza, Aztlan, and other mob-controlled unions poured big money into Wisconsin then Ohio and now Arizona (also read “Shadow Govt”).

    Russell Pearce must be re-elected to continue balancing the budget, honoring the laws, smaller government, sanity in government pensions, etc.
    We have the numbers and energy on our side now we need the good Mesa Conservatives to get out the vote and stand behind Pearce.

    The only reason Pearce will lose is if the Conservatives assume that Russell will once again will win in a landslide (common perception) and they do not vote. Patriots, the reason Lewis ran in a recall election is because he can not win against Pearce in a “normal” primary election. Now Lewis has and is the candidate of the Democratic Party. 100% Dem vote and 18% of GOP vote and Russell can lose. Clever these Soros-backed people.

    Doesn’t it tell you something about the character of a man splitting his church in two over his power hunger and Lewis is a Stake President. Why are only progressive Democrats backing Lewis while prominent Republicans endorse Pearce?

    Please attend the Rally for Pearce this Friday at 7pm in the Hohokam Stadium. Speakers include AZ GOP Chair Morrissey. Sheriff Arpaio. State Senators Giggs, Allen, Smith. Reps Ugenti,Kavanaugh, Farnsworth. Sup Schools Huppenthal, Comm Pierce. Former Congressmen Salmon and Gray . Mike Broomhead of KFYI and others.

  5. @WeThePeople2012 – you guys are the chattiest “Silent Majority” that has ever existed.

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