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Once-secret poll: Mormons narrowly support Lewis in recall election

Mesa Republican Jerry Lewis and Senate President Russell Pearce (File photos)

It may have been conducted a month ago, but a previously secret poll of the District 18 race shows that the Mormon community is deeply divided over the contest between Senate President Russell Pearce and charter school administrator Jerry Lewis.

The poll, which was provided to Arizona Capitol Times by multiple sources, was conducted between Sept. 28 and Oct. 1 by Tucson pollster Margaret Kenski. On two separate occasions, the 301 voters were asked who they would vote for if the election were held today. Both times, more Mormons chose Lewis over Pearce, who has served in the Legislature since 2001.

Initially, the voters were asked who they would vote for if the election were held that day. Of the 70 respondents who said they considered themselves members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 27 chose Pearce and 29 chose Lewis.

After a series of questions outlining pros and cons for both candidates, the voters were asked again who they would vote for. This time, only 24 of the Mormons said they would support Pearce, while 31 chose Lewis.

Among all voters, Lewis won both head-to-head matchups. The poll showed him leading Pearce by nearly 3.5 percentage points on the first ballot test, and by 6.1 points on the second. Nearly 22 percent of voters were undecided both times.

Mormons were most divided among the different religious groups represented in the poll. Catholics strongly supported Lewis, with more than half backing Lewis each time. Meanwhile, Protestants were firmly in favor of Pearce, with nearly half choosing him both times.

Mormons also sharply split on their view of the recall (36 percent support it, 40 percent oppose it) and how they view Pearce (21 percent see him very unfavorably, 17 percent see him very favorably).

Most telling may be the LDS split on immigration. Nearly 39 percent of the Mormons surveyed agreed that Pearce “has taken the immigration issue to the extreme and…has simply gone too far,” while a little less than 36 percent disagreed.

That belief may stem from a statement the Mormon church issued in June outlining its view on immigration. Many in the church say the statement, which calls for a more humane solution in dealing with illegal immigration and discourages enforcement-only measures by states, is clearly at odds with Pearce’s enforcement-only approach.

Pearce, who won a national reputation as an immigration hawk after SB1070 was signed into law last year, said in a recent town hall meeting that he has LDS leaders’ endorsements for his immigration approach.

Lewis is also a Mormon and is a former high-ranking church official.

Other findings in the poll could prove problematic for Pearce, who is the first legislator in Arizona history to face a recall election. At the time the poll was conducted, voters in the district did not believe many of the statements the Pearce campaign made about the recall. For instance, they didn’t believe that “liberal Democrats who live far outside (the) district” organized the recall: 40 percent said that wasn’t true (including nearly one-third of all respondents who strongly disagreed with the statement), compared to only 29 percent who thought it was.

Likewise, the voters believed Lewis was running “to restore honor and integrity to (the) community” by an 18-point margin and rejected the assertion that he “is a pawn for the liberal, pro-business, open border crowd” by a 25-point margin.

The poll was commissioned by Citizens United for Progress, a shadowy group that has sent out several mailers to voters in the district opposing Pearce and supporting Lewis. It is not registered as a political committee and it is not known who is providing its funding.

The group recently caught the ire of state elections officials because it sent a mailer to voters informing them that Olivia Cortes is no longer a candidate. Last week, Secretary of State Ken Bennett said the mailer uses a logo that deceptively gives the impression that the piece is an official notice from Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell.

Bennett’s office concluded it was likely the group had violated state law and he asked Attorney General Tom Horne to investigate.

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