Pearce lost Tuesday’s Republican Senate primary race in Mesa’s Legislative District 25 to businessman Bob Worsley.
The election defeat could spell the end of the political career of Pearce, a national lion in the fight against illegal immigration who was ousted from the Senate last year in a historic recall election.
Worsley, the founder of SkyMall and several other companies, was recruited by moderate Republicans to block Pearce’s attempted comeback.
Worsley will face Democrat Greg Gadek in November’s legislative District 25 Senate race. Gadek, a political rookie, faces a steep uphill climb in the overwhelmingly Republican district.
Pearce, 65, banned reporters and photographers from attending his election-night party at Rockin’ R Ranch, an Old West dinner theater in southeast Mesa. He refused to come out of the event and make a comment as the results began rolling in. His gathering was to have featured several other candidates from the “tea party” wing of the GOP.
Randy Parraz, an activist who led a recall election against Pearce, said the former political heavyweight’s loss was no surprise.
“This is the same Russell Pearce who said he’d never lose a primary,” Parraz told The Arizona Republic. “He misjudged the fact that he was no longer a conservative Republican — he was an extreme Tea Party Republican. There’s no comeback for Russell Pearce — he’s done.”
As results rolled in, Worsley, 56, welcomed friends and political allies to a backyard party at his north Mesa home and allowed media free access to the gathering.
In his campaign, Worsley followed much the same script as did Jerry Lewis, the political neophyte who defeated Pearce in last year’s recall.
Worsley said he was recruited to run by some of the same people who talked Lewis into the seemingly impossible job of trying to bump off Arizona’s sitting Senate president, a man who some believed wielded more political power than the governor.
Like Lewis, Worsley stressed his private-sector credentials as a job creator and picked up support from a wide swath of Mesa’s old-guard Mormon political establishment.
Worsley also had the unanimous endorsement of the Mesa City Council.
“Thank you, Mesa,” Worsley posted on his Facebook page Tuesday night.
Tuesday’s results were viewed as a bellwether for the fortunes of the ultraconservative tea-party movement, of whom Pearce has become a leading symbol.
Pearce entered the Legislature in 2000.
He dug in as a budget hawk and a proponent of gun rights and other conservative causes. But his calling card through the years was a raft of bills, many of which became law, aimed at curbing illegal immigration.
His crown jewel, Senate Bill 1070, was signed amid raucous national publicity in early 2010.
But shortly thereafter, Pearce’s political fortunes declined rapidly as his hometown Republican base eroded, leading to the recall election.
Many Mesa residents said Pearce had focused so much on immigration that he had forgotten to represent his hometown’s interests in the Legislature.