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Is the Russell Pearce recall election a referendum on Arizona's immigration politics?

Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images News

Russell Pearce, the Republican Arizona state senate president whose SB 1070 anti-illegal immigration law continues to inspire similarly strict immigration laws in other states, could lose his seat to a recall Tuesday. He'll be running against a challenger, fellow Republican Jerry Lewis, in the state's first-ever recall election involving a state lawmaker.

And while Pearce's hardline stance on immigration isn't the sole basis of the effort to oust him, the outcome of tomorrow's election is being regarded by many as a popular vote on his controversial immigration politics - and on the public image of Arizona that SB 1070 and other proposed immigration crackdowns there since have helped create.

As the polls prepare to open, several news analyses have examined what the recall vote means in terms of Pearce's and Arizona's immigration policies and politics:

People on both sides of the debate believe that removing Pearce would send a powerful message to the Legislature that uncompromising stands on immigration and other issues will not be tolerated by voters. On the flip side, a Pearce victory will say a tough stance on illegal immigration is just what voters demand.

"The folks running the recall are trying to send a message to the rest of the Legislature that if they can take out Russell Pearce, then they can take out any one of us, and to get us to stop running bills against illegal immigration," said Republican Sen. Ron Gould.

Pearce is facing fellow Republican Jerry Lewis, a charter school executive and former accountant who hopes his candidacy will help the district and Arizona shed false images as being home to intolerance.

Pearce has made the recall about his signature issue of illegal immigration. But Kenski said the election is about different things to different people.

Her recent polls have found that voters are more concerned about the economy, jobs and education. Those issues have edged out illegal immigration as the former top issue, Kenski said.

Even when looking at illegal immigration, polls have found voters aren't as strident as Pearce, she said. They almost all want a secure border but there's more acceptance for guest workers, the notion that Americans won't do some jobs and some version of the Dream Act.

For some voters, it's about the perceived focus of Pearce and the Legislature.

"A lot of it has to do with style and balance and trying to get things done," Kenski said. "I look at the national data and I look at state data and people want to see problems solved and I think they're kind of tired with a lot of the intense partisan bickering in politics and with the parties."

Pearce, who drafted the 2010 law after meeting with officials from the American Legislative Exchange Council and Corrections Corporation of America, the private prison company, became state Senate president following Republican gains in the 2010 elections. But despite his rise in political stature, his anti-immigrant agenda met with more resistance than expected, and he was recently implicated by an investigation that showed him and other Arizona lawmakers illegally accepting Fiesta Bowl tickets.

While Pearce's odd ability to "accidentally" associate with white supremacists didn't stop him from rising to state senate president in Arizona, his Republican opponent has taken a moderate stance on immigration, saying during their debate a few weeks ago that "we need to make sure we address this issue in a humane way." So it's not just that Pearce might lose. It's that the state's most anti-immigrant politician might be defeated by the kind of Republican moderate on immigration that, back in 2010, seemed almost extinct.

Longtime Pearce supporter Earl Rogers, 52, who sells hot dogs on a Mesa street corner after three years of unemployment, said Pearce went too far with SB 1070: "He's given himself and the state too much of a black eye. So unfortunately, I'll vote for Jerry Lewis."

At a nearby antique store, Craig Wacker, 67, said Pearce was being targeted simply because of the immigration law, not because of his performance. "I think he's doing a great job," he said.

Arizona’s now infamous SB1070, the tough anti-immigration law, was to be only the start for Senate President Russell Pearce. Upon passage of this legislation, he set about to get a series of bills so extreme that they were rejected by even his conservative legislative colleagues, the very same people who had just passed SB1070.

The leaders of the business community revolted. These are the “job creators” who understand what Pearce’s single-minded obsession with immigration is doing to the ability of the state to attract jobs. And not the $10-an-hour back office jobs that will all end up overseas anyway, but the $100,000-a-year high-tech primary industry jobs that enrich our entire community.

Lastly, the Arizona Republic had a good tick-tock today on how Pierce wound up in the position he's in, and the drama surrounding candidate Olivia Cortes, who before she dropped out of the election was regarded to be a sham candidate placed on the ballot by the Pearce camp.

Regardless of the degree to which Pierce's immigration record inspired the recall election, its outcome as voters decide his fate will no doubt be embraced as a sign of how far a politician can go on immigration. Either way, the turnout and its aftermath will be interesting to watch.