For the activists behind the recall of state Senate President Russell Pearce, there’s no such thing as too much publicity.
Except when it comes to who they plan to run against Pearce.
The high-profile recall effort considers a candidate’s identity a secret, leaving voters in the dark for now as to who might challenge a national icon in the immigration debate.
Any candidates are unlikely to reveal themselves until a recall election has been confirmed, said Randy Parraz of Citizens for a Better Arizona.
“There’s no sense in giving Pearce any heads up on what’s going to happen,” Parraz said. “It takes a certain amount of courage in this climate to take on a sitting Senate president.”
Potential challenger Andrew Sherwood ran against the Mesa Republican in 2010 and said he’s thought about stepping forward in the recall in legislative District 18. But Sherwood said it’s a given he — or others — won’t announce until it’s certain an election is on.
Sherwood, the Democratic precinct chairman of District 18, said he can only speculate about who will emerge.
“I sort of know a couple people who know a guy who knows a person. It’s like six degrees from Waldo,” Sherwood said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Political observers generally agree on the type of candidate who would be a formidable candidate in the strongly conservative west Mesa district. It’s generally thought Democrats will sit out the election because they do so poorly there. Also, opponents will likely rally behind a single opponent to avoid having multiple challengers split the vote.
Likely, the opponent would need to be conservative and a Republican with some track record of civic engagement.
Some believe it’s important to be Mormon, like Pearce.
But Tom Rhodes, a former board member of the Mesa Unified School District and District 18 resident, discounts the religious component because he keeps being told there’s no Mormon voting bloc.
The candidate has to be highly visible and solidly conservative, he said.
“There aren’t many moderate Republicans, at least as far as I can tell,” Rhodes said. “I think it’s going to need to be a Republican, somebody who is at least fiscally conservative. I don’t know that being socially conservative is all that important.”
An election has been all but certain for two weeks, when the Maricopa County Elections Director Karen Osborne verified more than enough signatures on recall petitions were valid. It takes 7,756 votes to trigger an election, and 10,361 were valid as of Tuesday. The office has until Aug. 1 to complete verification. The election will fall in November or March, depending on how quickly the counting is done.
Pearce has won eight consecutive elections for two-year terms in his district, a point his supporters tout. The recall is more a function of using paid signature gatherers than a sign of voter dissatisfaction, said Matt Tolman, chairman of Citizens Who Oppose the Pearce Recall.
“I don’t see a viable candidate out there who can win against Russell,” Tolman said. “All it’s going to do is enhance his position.”
Tolman views the recall as an abuse of Arizona’s constitutional provisions for removing elected officials. He argues that recalls are meant for unethical or illegal activities, adding Pearce hasn’t been charged with anything. Opponents are pinning Arizona’s budget woes and deep spending cuts on one person, he said.
“People don’t want to realize we’re in this mess because of the economy, not because of anything Russell did,” Tolman said.
Recalls are more common in cities and school boards because it’s much easier to collect signatures that trigger a recall. The only other state-level politician in Arizona to face recall was Gov. Evan Mecham in 1988, but his impeachment and conviction caused the recall to be cancelled.
About 60 percent of recalls have failed in Arizona, said David Berman, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University who has studied local politics. Opponents in a recall needn’t be starkly different to succeed, he said.
“If you’re going to be successful in a recall campaign, you have to appeal to some of the people of the person you’re opposing,” he said.
Recalls have become more common nationwide in recent years, but it’s usually conservative activists who trigger recalls against politicians for things like unpopular tax hikes. This recall runs counter to that, as Pearce is celebrated by the tea party movement for cutting government spending.
The recall could be a pushback against the sharp conservative turn Arizona took two years ago, Berman said.
Pearce will emerge stronger if he wins in a landslide, Berman said. But a small Pearce victory would signal growing dissatisfaction with the conservative icon and what he stands for, Berman said.
“Maybe the tea party people are being challenged, finally. Maybe they’re going too far. I think this has broader significance than just Russell Pearce,” Berman said. “If he wins just narrowly, it’s a bad sign (for him) because if you’re having a referendum against the tea party movement, the last place the liberals will win is in his district.”
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