So, what’s new, Mr. Pearce? - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

So, what’s new, Mr. Pearce?

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Mark J. Scarp is a contributing columnist for the Tribune. Reach him at mscarp1@cox.net.

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Posted: Saturday, February 4, 2012 8:51 am | Updated: 7:49 am, Wed Feb 8, 2012.

So Russell Pearce filled out some paperwork that suggests he might (or rather, could) run for a state Senate seat from a newly and differently configured Mesa district.

There is no "Dracula" clause for public officials removed from office via recall - Arizona's constitution only allows the Legislature the power to ban an impeached-and-removed elected official from ever seeking state office again - so Pearce is free to run again.

Pearce is keeping his options open, although less than one year between his ouster in November to the primary next August may be too brief a time for voters to believe Pearce will be offering something new.

Political comebacks, real and attempted, are nothing new in American politics, of course. People who run for office tend to think very highly of themselves, even to the point where they feel called by the greater good - rather than by actual voters - to serve even after being turned out of office.

The most successful comeback kid was Grover Cleveland. He won an election for president in 1884, lost in 1888 and sat out four years, then ran again in 1892 and won, becoming the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms.

Richard Nixon lost his 1960 bid for the presidency then a race for California governor in 1962, when he made an election-night retirement announcement at what he himself referred to as his "last press conference." He sat out eight years and was elected president in 1968. There were more press conferences.

In the losing column, William Jennings Bryan kept coming back and coming back, having been the Democratic presidential nominee three times in a row - 1896, 1900 and 1904 - and lost all three times. Here in Arizona, impeached-and-removed Gov. Evan Mecham tried a few years after leaving office in 1988 to win a U.S. Senate seat, but didn't get past the primary.

Pearce certainly hasn't been in hiding since his double-digit-percentage-point loss to state Sen. Jerry Lewis, R-Mesa. In the tradition of J.D. Hayworth, Pearce has got his own radio show. And last weekend he was handily elected first vice chairman of the state Republican Party by delegates in Phoenix.

Party faithful often hold differing views and priorities than most party voters. Phoenix New Times' Stephen Lemons reported last week that these same delegates also gave their preference for president in a straw poll whose results were: Ron Paul, 256; Newt Gingrich, 20; Mitt Romney, 17 and Rick Santorum, 8.

Never mind that among Arizona Republicans who don't attend party meetings, according to the latest Rocky Mountain Poll from the Phoenix-based Behavior Research Center, Romney holds a more than 27-point lead in advance of the state's Feb. 28 primary.

On that day Paul, who received only 4 percent in the poll behind Romney, Santorum and Gingrich, will be swamped. At least as far as Arizona is concerned, Paul is proving that, as important as they are, a candidate needs much more than party regulars to win an election.

In the new district where Pearce finds himself, if he won the primary election he'd be odds-on to win the general, because of the GOP voter-registration edge in that district. But that's a big if.

If Pearce runs again, he would almost certainly face a primary battle in which this time he would not be the incumbent. Recent realignment of legislative districts means that he is now living in a district where the sitting senator is Mesa's Rich Crandall.

One potential help to Pearce would be that in August, only Republicans and a smattering of independents will be casting primary ballots. Last fall, Democrats were allowed to vote in the recall, of course, and far more independents than will request a GOP ballot next August. But Pearce will have to show voters why Crandall should be replaced with him.

The Arizona political system is one in which primaries tend to produce candidates at the edges of the political spectrum. Only the most motivated voters show up in primary elections, and they tend to have the more out-there views. Meanwhile, only a smattering of independents, who aren't fond of political parties, vote in primaries.

The result is that in general elections we often must choose between very liberal Democrats and very conservative Republicans, neither of whom share most political views held by the 70 to 80 percent of us in the middle.

Try to move toward the center and you get pummeled from the edges. Romney feels that pain. So does Barack Obama, who as president often has disappointed liberals as much as he riles conservatives.

In the conservative East Valley, you don't have to move too much toward the center to win a legislative seat. But history has often shown that you must offer something new to voters if you're trying to mount a comeback, which by definition has voters asking you if there's anything new about you they already don't know.

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