PHOENIX - Russell Pearce may have been ousted by the voters in his legislative district in last year's historic recall election, but proof of his enduring popularity among Republican activists will be on full display later this month, as the former Senate president is set to be elected to second-in-command of the Arizona Republican Party. When voters at the state GOP's annual meeting on Jan. 28 elect a host of new officers, Pearce's name will be on the ballot as a candidate for first vice-chairman of the party, and his victory – despite the presence of an opponent – is as assured as is tomorrow's sunrise.
While voters in his Mesa district may have resoundingly told him that they no longer wanted him representing them at the state Capitol, conservative Republican activists are unbowed in their support for Pearce. Time and again, I have spoken with his supporters in the Republican Party – run-of-the-mill voters, grassroots activists and elected officials – who heap praise on the man they feel in many ways carries the mantle of the GOP, calling him "a great American" and "a patriot" who was the target of a liberal conspiracy to cut him down in his political prime. Speaker after speaker at the Jan. 28 meeting will surely use the opportunity to fete Pearce publicly with similar, if not more grandiose, language.
But while the grassroots conservatives that currently control the Arizona GOP may revel in the opportunity to restore Pearce to some semblance of prominence – even if it is only within the party structure – his election will only serve to further drive a wedge between the well-heeled "establishment" elements of the party and the rigidly ideological activists in command of the party structure. The wealthy Republican benefactors have all but abandoned their financial support of the party in recent years, beginning in 2007, when Randy Pullen was first elected party chairman over the objection of the state's congressional delegation. When current GOP Chairman Tom Morrissey was elected a year ago, traditional Republican Party contributors became even stingier with their money, and the party is now awash in debt.
Electing Pearce to a leadership post will do nothing to mollify the deep-pocketed contributors that the party needs to mount an effective campaign to support congressional and legislative candidates in 2012. They view him as emblematic of the problems in the party: too focused on immigration, intolerant of divergent views among Republicans and quick to attack the character and patriotism of those who disagree with him. If – nay, when – he is elected to help lead the Republican Party, the delegation will have no other choice but to seek out a surrogate for a state party it has no faith in.