Foes of Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce declared a new day in Arizona on Wednesday as they celebrated the recall defeat of the nationally known immigration hawk who was the primary architect of the state’s tough anti-illegal-immigrants law.
Mr. Pearce lost the state’s first-ever recall election by a margin of 53 percent to 45 percentage to Jerry Lewis, a fellow Republican recruited to oust the longtime state legislator, whose staunch anti-illegal-immigration agenda made him a prime target of the left.
His critics described the vote as not just a referendum on Mr. Pearce, but on immigration issues, Arizona politics, the economy, and even the Republican presidential primary.
Randy Parraz, who founded the group Citizens for a Better Arizona that forced the recall, said the vote represented a “major, major correction in Arizona politics.”
“This whole movement shows there’s now going to be consequences for this type of extreme, ultraconservative agenda, whereby education is sacrificed, health care is sacrificed, jobs and the economy are sacrificed, all because of one senator’s obsession and self-promotion on the issue of immigration,” Mr. Parraz told reporters Wednesday.
Republicans have dominated Arizona politics for years, but Democratic candidates showed strength across the state on Tuesday, winning the Phoenix and Tucson mayoral races. Arizona Democratic Party chairman Andrei Cherny described the results as “a bitter blow to extremism.”
Eliseo Medina, secretary-treasurer of the Service Employees International Union, which aided in the recall, said the election results should serve as a warning to Republicans about the strength of the Hispanic vote.
“This election also offers proof to candidates everywhere, including the presidential candidates, that the American people want solutions to real problems, not more division and demonizing of Latinos and immigrants,” said Mr. Medina.
He added that candidates who “show disrespect by the way they talk about immigrants, such as building border fences that would electrocute them, will have limited careers.”
Pearce supporters chalked up the recall defeat to a combination of factors, not the least of which was the election format. The local Democratic leadership strongly discouraged any Democrats from running, while recall organizers were determined to recruit a Mormon Republican who would split the vote from the Mesa-based district’s two largest voting blocs.
An early attempt by Pearce supporters to boost the candidacy of a third candidate, Olivia Cortes, backfired when a judge found that she was recruited to pull votes from Mr. Lewis. She pulled out of the race in October.
The result was “a primary election where everyone got to vote,” said Pearce spokesman Ed Phillips.
Mr. Phillips rejected descriptions of the race as a referendum on Senate Bill 1070, the 2010 Arizona law sponsored by Mr. Pearce that requires suspected illegal immigrants to prove their status to law enforcement. Polls show most Arizonans continue to support the law, despite a legal challenge from the Obama administration.
Other states, including Alabama, Georgia and Indiana, have approved similar laws since the Arizona bill took effect.
Legislative District 18 could see a rematch in a few months: Mr. Lewis must run for re-election in 2012 to hold the seat, and it’s possible Mr. Pearce will challenge him in the Republican primary.
While Mr. Pearce has not yet said whether he will run, his spokesman said that the candidate is “certainly not ready to retire.”
Mr. Lewis, a charter-school executive, called his victory “perhaps a referendum on priorities” in a Wednesday interview with KPNX-TV in Phoenix.