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Early ballots point to high interest in Pearce recall

Voters who requested early ballots have been mailing them back to election officials at a healthy clip.

As of Nov. 2 — six days before the recall election targeting Senate President Russell Pearce — the ballots’ return rate is on pace to pass the 50 percent mark.

Roughly 27,000 early ballots were requested and so far, more than 13,000 had been mailed back.

Pollsters said that’s a good turnout, and it indicates a high interest among voters in the recall election.

But whether this translates to a high overall turnout remains to be seen.

More importantly, it’s unclear what it bodes for Pearce or his challenger, charter school executive Jerry Lewis. Both are Republicans.

The prevailing theory is that in a typical election, a low turnout would benefit an incumbent. That’s because the incumbent has loyal supporters and the campaign machinery to get the vote out.

But the Nov. 8 recall election against Pearce is unprecedented in the state’s history, and political observers don’t quite know what to make of a high turnout — assuming a good number of voters flock to the polls.

“It could well be that a lot of people turning out, it’s conceivable, would feel obliged to defend Pearce and his immigration policies, but another solid bloc are going to be those people who are saying this is my chance to change things,” said the Tucson-based pollster Margaret Kenski. “I can make a logical case for a high turnout going in either direction.”

Earl de Berge, another pollster, said his instincts say a “moderate” turnout — within the 40 to 50 percent range — may favor Pearce.

“You can be sure his troops will be out trying to defend his position,” de Berge said.

On the other hand, “if those people challenging (Pearce) really crank it up, and get a much higher turnout than that, I think higher turnout would mean a more competitive race,” he said.

For de Berge, a “high” turn would be in the 60 percent range.

In short, the election in Mesa, which pits a high-ranking and influential politician against a credible and well-respected challenger, is a battle of turning out their bases on Election Day.

But while divining the race’s outcome is impossible, there are a few narrow assumptions that can be made heading into Election Day.

One is that Democrats and independents will likely break for Lewis. Many agree this gives the challenger a fighting a chance that would otherwise be missing in a typical Republican-only primary race.

As of the latest voter-registration figures, there are more 71,000 voters in District 18. Roughly 38 percent of them are Republicans, 26 percent are Democrats while 35 percent are independents.

Secondly, Republicans are likely going to split. But the breakdown is impossible to tell.

What everybody agrees with is Pearce has loyal supporters as well as hard-line critics within the Republican Party. As some observers put it, people either like Pearce or dislike him.

There’s one more unknown in the race — Republican Olivia Cortes, who has dropped out of the race but whose name is still on the ballot.

In a tight race, whatever vote she gets could determine who wins or loses.

LD18 Early Ballot Turnout as of 2 p.m. Nov. 2

Requested Returned Rate
GOP 11,503 6,404 56%
Dem 8,168 3,852 47%
Independent (Party not designated) 7,188 2,718 38%
LBT 195 71 36%
Green 54 20 37%
Americans Elect 5 4 80%
Liberal 9 2 22%
Reform 1 1 100%
Total 27,123 13,072 48%

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