Except for his concession speech, it’s all over for Russell Pearce.
Outraised and outspent, the man who helped elevate Arizona onto the national stage in the illegal immigration debate, failed on Tuesday to persuade his party-mates to send him back to the state Legislature.
It was the former Senate president’s second loss since November – when he was ousted from office in a recall election – against an opponent who holds moderate views on immigration enforcement.
Pearce’s constituents decided to support a newcomer, businessman Bob Worsley, in the race to secure the Republican Party’s nominee to the state Senate in the Mesa-based Legislative District 25.
Worsley led the former Senate president by double digits in the GOP primary race, the early election results showed.
Pearce was ousted from office in a historic recall election last year against now-Sen. Jerry Lewis.
The Mesa Republican said Tuesday’s election’s outcome has a broader meaning for the state.
“What it tells you is that we want solutions to the problem. We don’t want more polarization,” Lewis told the Arizona Capitol Times. “That solution can’t happen if all we’re doing is fighting each other.”
Indeed, Lewis and Worsley agree that the country’s immigration system is in shambles, but both offer a more collaborative tone, shying away from Pearce’s more fiercely rhetorical and often confrontational style.
Voters, in short, have once again rejected Pearce in favor of party-mates who offer a different vision of how to solve the country’s illegal immigration problem.
The initial and unofficial tally by Maricopa County’s Election Department is showing that Worsley is well ahead with roughly 20,500 votes tallied so far.
Based on the initial count, Worsley has captured 56 percent compared to Pearce’s 44 percent – a 12 point spread.
And with the votes from all precincts already counted, Pearce would need a dramatic shift in the trend when elections officials count early ballots that were dropped off at polling places on Tuesday.
Worsley will face Democrat Greg Gadek in November. But given the Republican leanings of the district, Worsley is expected to easily fend off Gadek’s challenge.
While some predicted his loss, Pearce’s failure to capture his party’s nomination would have been unthinkable two years ago, when the state enacted his most famous anti-illegal immigration measure, SB1070, and he held his caucus’ top leadership spot.
Pearce put up a spirited fight to capture his old seat, but his political foe had a bigger war chest and had scored major endorsements, such as the support of Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, the Mesa Chamber of Commerce and the entire Mesa City Council.
Indeed, while Pearce was regarded as the early favorite, Worsley ran a dogged, smart and largely positive campaign.
He announced, for example, his candidacy just hours before Pearce was scheduled to reveal his plan to seek his old seat — a move that ensured Worsley would share the day’s news cycle.
He pitched himself as a successful businessman who now wants to use his skills to solve the state’s problems.
And in a video that perhaps revealed more about how he views the race, Worsley’s campaign released an ad that showed a finger hitting one note on the piano — immigration. The pianist then played several notes, producing a melodious piece.
The point of the ad, called “strong on all the issues,” was unmistakable — Pearce is a “one note” candidate who has focused all his energy on illegal immigration while Worsley is more flexible and will tackle a variety of issues, such as jobs, spending, taxes, education, and family values.
Indeed, Worsley, the founder of the in-flight magazine SkyMall, offered a nuanced view of the country’s immigration problem and preferred a comprehensive fix to deal with the millions who are already in the country illegally.
He committed one glaring mistake early in his campaign, when he scrubbed his criticism of Arizona’s illegal immigration laws on his church website, Mormon.org.
“We have suffered with the Arizona law that encouraged those immigrants without proper documents to leave the State. I have fought for the rights of Latinos and to replace those lawmakers who were most extreme in their views,” Worsley wrote, but later deleted the remarks.
But he quickly owned the embarrassment and recovered.
Pearce tried to capitalize on the mistake and to paint his foe as a liberal who has also contributed to a prominent Democrat, U.S. Harry Reid of Nevada.
One Pearce campaign mailer said after Worsley deleted his critical comments, he “now campaigns as a conservative on the issue.”
Worsley was undoubtedly aided by his superior campaign resources.
He loaned his campaign $190,000, boosting his finances to roughly $250,000 and easily dwarfing Pearce’s $80,000.