Mesa Republican Tyler Pace knew that Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, was considering retirement before he filed to run against the incumbent for the state Senate.
But the 29-year-old candidate in Legislative District 25 said he had nothing to do with Worsley’s decision to withdraw from the campaign, which Worsley timed perfectly to ensure that Pace would go unchallenged in the GOP primary election.
Pace said he met with Worsley before he began his campaign for the LD25 Senate seat, and that the senator told him he was thinking about calling it quits.
“Bob and I met before I filed my signatures, before I filed my candidacy,” Pace told the Arizona Capitol Times on June 21. “And at that point, I had become aware, and from Bob, he told me when we were meeting that he was considering retiring. And people, several other people we’ve met were like, ‘Oh we’ve heard him say that.’”
Worsley has openly acknowledged that he’s only retiring from the Legislature because he’s comfortable with Pace as his replacement.
By withdrawing from the race on June 18, after filing signatures to run on May 30 and past the June 13 deadline to challenge the petitions of those seeking access to the ballot, Worsley ensured that no Republican other than Pace will be on the ballot in August. Only a write-in candidate could challenge Pace in the Republican Primary.
Pace adamantly denied that he coordinated with Worsley or with Gov. Doug Ducey’s Chief of Staff Kirk Adams, his uncle by marriage, to secure the GOP nomination.
He described himself as a newcomer who stumbled into a perfect storm that created a clear path for his ascension to the Senate.
“Bob didn’t recruit me. He didn’t solicit me or hunt me out. I think it kind of was mostly circumstantial what was going on,” Pace said. “And as we now know, Bob was wanting a way out. And I think to sum it up, I was the only person who was available and there. No one else was running against him.”
The timing of Pace’s decision to enter the race has left some Mesa Republicans skeptical of his candidacy.
Pace registered his website’s domain name on May 25, the same day he created a campaign committee with the Secretary of State’s Office. He then collected 1,461 signatures in just five days, a staggering pace of roughly 292 signatures a day.
Pace credited a team of family volunteers and friends, and paid signature gatherers, for gathering his nominating petitions.
And he credited his grandfather, who served for decades in Utah’s Legislature, for the idea to run for the state Senate. Pace initially explored running for Congress against U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Mesa. But Pace said he settled on Worsley because, like Biggs, the senator faced no opposition from his own party.
“You can see with Andy Biggs. Nobody was running against Andy Biggs and I thought, we can have some discrepancies on what we agree, on little things,” he said. “Competition in politics gives people options, so I figured, it’s last second and everyone’s thinking I’m a bit crazy, so I jumped in.”
The circumstances around Worsley’s retirement have left LD25 Republicans suspicious, according to Kathleen Winn, first vice chair of the district’s Republican Party. Their party members are having a tough time separating Worsley’s maneuver from Pace’s candidacy, she said.
Pace had a chance to win over those Republicans at a meeting on June 21. The Capitol Times was barred from the meeting, but Winn said Pace spent the night answering questions about his political views, the circumstances surrounding his entry into the race and his connection to Worsley and the outgoing senator’s allies.
Winn said the crowd received him politely and didn’t go on the attack, but remained skeptical.
“He didn’t win over the crowd, but they didn’t try to attack him and shout him down, which I’ve seen happen,” she said. “I don’t think that they were 100 percent trusting of what he had to say, but I think that really goes way more to Bob Worsley than it does to Tyler Pace.”
Had Worsley been more open with the district’s political leaders about his desire to retire, some LD25 Republicans may have put another candidate forward. Winn said Dr. Ralph Heap, a Mesa Republican who challenged Worsley in the 2014 primary, likely would have made another run and probably would have gotten the support of many in the district.
Yet had a candidate like Heap run against Worsley, the senator had indicated he would have stayed in the race.
Worsley only ran for re-election against Heap in 2014 because wasn’t satisfied that Heap would represent the district appropriately, according to Tyler Montague, a consultant who helped recruit Worsley for office.
Now the district’s Republicans are left to decide whether to support Pace, or scramble to find a write-in candidate. Winn downplayed that possibility, calling discussions about a write-in a “knee jerk reaction” to Worsley’s announcement.
Nonetheless, Pace is at a disadvantage while introducing himself to the district.
“Tyler is very politically naive, but he’s very intelligent. And I think he represents a lot of our viewpoints, so we’ll see,” Winn said. “Unfortunately the way that Bob did this, he left Tyler in a compromised position, which is unfortunate because now Tyler’s starting at a deficit… He’s getting any angst that people have against Sen. Worsley is now getting projected onto him, because people don’t trust Sen. Worsley.”