With only a few days left until voters head to the ballot box to decide the fate of Senate President Russell Pearce, a poll commissioned by the Arizona Capitol Times and ABC15 News shows the race is a dead heat.
Mesa Republican Jerry Lewis, who is seeking to unseat Pearce in the Nov. 8 recall election, is holding his own among fellow GOP voters, despite being heavily outspent by Pearce and his national fundraising prowess.
Lewis holds a 46 percent to 43 percent lead over Pearce in the historic recall contest, but the edge is within the poll’s margin of error.
“Statistically here, what we’ve got is a dead heat,” said Jeremy Moreland, a Valley pollster who conducted the survey. “Both Lewis and Pearce are within the margin of error of one another.”
The bottom line, Moreland said, is the poll doesn’t reveal a significant edge in support for either Lewis or Pearce by age, gender or religious affiliation.
The poll of 598 likely voters in Mesa’s District 18 shows that the Mormon community is deeply divided over the contest.
Lewis holds a slight lead among those who described themselves as Mormons, 47.5 percent to 45 percent.
Among the respondents, 160 considered themselves members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while the rest did not.
Interestingly, Republican Olivia Cortes, who dropped out of the race amid accusations that she was a “sham” candidate, is pulling some votes, although support for her is small — a mere 2.5 percent. Cortes’ name will still appear on the ballot.
The poll specifically stated that Cortes is no longer a candidate, so those who said they support her may be the result of user error or may be trying to skew the poll, Moreland said.
But depending on how tight the race is, any vote that goes to Cortes could still have some impact.
According to the poll, the number of the undecided stood at 8.5 percent, a fairly small number.
In short, the battle for the Legislative District 18 Senate seat has tightened up. This means the race’s outcome largely depends on whose campaign can bring out its supporters to the polls, and last-minute campaigning over the next few days could make a difference.
Those extra efforts could include hitting the campaign trail, knocking on doors alongside a high-profile endorser, and more importantly, ensuring that supporters mail their ballots or drop by polling precincts on Election Day.
Both campaigns have said they plan to work west Mesa neighborhoods this weekend to secure undecided votes.
As expected, Pearce holds the financial edge. He raised an eye-popping $230,000 – including donations from more than 40 states – compared to Lewis’ $69,000, their latest campaign finance reports showed.
By all indications, Pearce is running a well-oiled campaign and has recently gone on the offensive, hitting Lewis with negative TV ads and mailers.
The incumbent’s latest TV ad, for example, sought to directly tie Lewis to “labor unions” and “left-wing groups.”The ad says Lewis and his “liberal friends” already spent more than $200,000 to remove Pearce from office.
Pearce’s TV ad, however, listed Democratic and labor groups that funded independent committees that have spent for Lewis, but are not connected to his campaign.
Lewis’ campaign shot back at Pearce in recent weeks over allegations that Lewis “stole” from homeless kids. Lewis’ campaign called the attack “spurious” and said Pearce is morally unmoored.
Lewis mostly touted his credentials as a candidate, but he took a shot at Pearce in a recent video when he said he wouldn’t call people names if they disagree with him. Lewis also said he would support a gift ban, pledging he “won’t have access to events, tickets, and special privileges that you and your family don’t have.”
The swipe was a not-so-veiled reference to Pearce’s involvement in accepting Fiesta Bowl tickets and trips to promote the bowl.
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The autodial poll was conducted on Nov. 1 among 598 likely voters.
Roughly 66 percent were Republicans, about 24 percent were Democrats, and 5.4 percent were independents.
The margin of error is plus or minus 3.95 percent.
There’s a good chance some of those who were polled already mailed their early ballots.
The poll’s key question mirrored the recall election’s actual ballot. It stated that a group called Citizens for a Better Arizona submitted the recall petition and briefly described its reasons. It also provided a summary of Pearce’s defenses.
It told respondents that there are three candidates on the ballot, though it stated that Cortes had officially dropped out of the race.
It then asked respondents the standard question: Who would they vote for if the election were held today?
The poll confirmed some assumptions and yielded a few surprises.
The first is that Lewis is holding his own among Republican voters.
The party is virtually split down the middle: Lewis got 45.6 percent compared to Pearce’s 45.3 percent.
As expected, Pearce lags behind when it came to Democratic voters, who heavily favored Lewis, 51 percent to 36.4 percent.
The poll also broke down the numbers by gender and age, and it showed that female voters slightly favor Lewis, 47.7 percent to 41.1 percent. Male voters, on the other hand, are evenly split.
Lewis also polled better among voters who are at least 65, though Pearce did slightly better among those who are 65 and below.
In addition to Lewis holding a slight lead among those who described themselves as Mormons, support for the challenger among non-Mormons also was slightly stronger – at 47.6 percent to Pearce’s 44.7 percent.
But Moreland cautioned against reading too much into these variables.
“The unique nature of the special election brings it down to who shows up to vote,” he said.