PHOENIX - Ousted state Senate President Russell Pearce won election Saturday to a top Arizona GOP party post, giving the architect of the state's tough immigration laws a new political role less than three months after he lost his seat in a recall election.
State Republicans elected Pearce the party's 1st vice chairman at a meeting in Phoenix, party spokesman Shane Wikfors said. The vote puts Pearce in the state party's No. 2 leadership role behind chairman Tom Morrissey. He won with about 60 percent of the vote.
Pearce was the first legislator in state history to be recalled when voters ousted him in November. His defeat was seen by some as a clear repudiation of the tough-on-immigration agenda that he championed by writing the 2010 immigration law that put Arizona in the national spotlight.
That didn't seem to matter to party leaders on Saturday.
"I will tell you that the two biggest generators of applause at today's meeting was Russell and Sheriff Joe (Arpaio)," Wikfors said. "You have to realize that the party faithful, they love these two guys."
Arizona Democratic Party chairman Andrei Cherny said Pearce's election won't help the Republicans.
"Arizona has moved past the divisive and corrosive politics of Russell Pearce -- but the Republican Party hasn't," he said in a statement. "The Republican Party's choice to make Pearce their shadow chairman couldn't be a clearer signal of where the leaders of the Arizona GOP want to steer their party."
The state's five Republican congressmen also attended the meeting, with drama behind the scenes as questions swirl around where Rep. Ben Quayle will seek re-election.
Redistricting pushed Quayle into the newly drawn and more competitive District 9 in east and south Phoenix areas and away from his base. As a result, he's been considering taking on fellow Republican Rep. David Schweikert in District 6 representing Scottsdale and Fountain Hills.
The thought of two incumbent Republicans battling for the district in a primary could be a headache scenario for party leaders, and Quayle is being pressured to take District 9.
But he didn't tip his hand Saturday.
"That is the high drama going on right now, what will Ben Quayle do?" Wikfors said. "He's got the world in his hand right now."