Unofficial results show Russell Pearce is facing his second election defeat in a row — once again to a political newcomer who vowed not to pursue divisive illegal immigration legislation.
SkyMall Founder Bob Worsley is leading Pearce with 56 percent of the vote in the Republican primary, according to early ballots and 54 percent of precincts reporting.
Pearce’s potential loss is a huge blow to a man who some had once considered Arizona’s most powerful politician.
He lost a historic November 2011 recall to charter school executive Jerry Lewis.
In both cases, Pearce lost to fellow Republican members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were recruited to run against him.
Worsley campaigned as a more moderate Republican, primarily on immigration, in Mesa District 25.
Worsley said Pearce was part of a legislature that wasn’t pragmatic — and that voters kept telling him they wanted a different approach.
“This new District 25 was ready for a change, a breath of fresh air, something new and the 11-year history of Russell and what he had worked on had worn thin,” Worsley said. “And there was fatigue there.”
Worsley said he ran into Pearce on the campaign trail and had pleasant conversations with him. But he said Pearce was part of a legislature that was too vitriolic.
Worsley said even if people don’t like it, they need to acknowledge that Arizona must have a relationship with the federal government to improve immigration policies and enforcement without a state-focused enforcement-only approach.
“It’s constant confrontation, tit for tat and not a real solution,” Worsley said.
Pearce championed a so-called jobs bill the Legislature passed in 2011, school choice and reducing taxes and government regulation. His signature issue, the anti-illegal immigration bill known as SB 1070, suffered a setback when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down portions of the law.
Pearce’s campaign faced controversies over a Facebook comment he posted that questioned why the suspect in the July 20 Colorado movie theater shooting wasn’t stopped by somebody in the audience. The gun rights proponent later apologized.
Questions were also raised when a group called the “Arizona Teacher’s (sic) Association” endorsed Pearce, as the otherwise unknown organization formed during the election.
Worsley enjoyed endorsements of the Arizona GOP establishment previously and in his recall battle. But Gov. Jan Brewer declined to weigh in this time.
Worsley promoted a more business-friendly environment to create jobs and stimulate economic development. While he didn’t appeal to tea party groups as much as Pearce, Worsley touted his work on social issues. He’s campaigned against same-sex marriage, and had supported a group that fought abortion and sex before marriage.
Pearce was endorsed by Mesa Mayor Scott Smith and the entire City Council.
Pearce avoided a rematch with Lewis because redistricting put Lewis in District 26, where Lewis was unopposed in the primary.
Worsley said he expects a number of new legislators will change the tone of the next session that begins in January.
“I think we’re seeing a sea change, and it’s heading toward civility and let’s work on important things instead of lots of symbolic, trivial legislation,” he said.
If Worsley’s lead holds when all votes are counted, he will face Democrat Greg Gadek in the Nov. 6 general election. District 25 is heavily Republican.
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