West Mesa voters have ousted state Senate President Russell Pearce in a historic recall election.
On Tuesday night, with early ballots and all precincts counted, unofficial results showed challenger Jerry Lewis with 53 percent of the vote in a race that's being watched nationally.
If Lewis' lead in legislative District 18 holds, it will represent the first time in Arizona history that voters ousted a state elected official.
Unofficial results showed Lewis with 53.4 percent of the vote and Pearce with 45.36 percent. Olivia Cortes had 1.24 percent even though she had withdrawn from the race.
Pearce's defeat represents a blow to the more conservative wing of the Republican Party, which portrayed the recall as a liberal effort to take down the author of the illegal immigration bill known as SB 1070. Pearce raised money from across the nation as conservatives rallied around the lawmaker.
Pearce told Capitol Media Services that he was disappointed, saying he will spend some time "with my family and my God'' before deciding what to do next. He has not ruled out another run -- including to get his old seat back.
He noted that this was an unusual race, with no primary. That allowed all voters, including the district's Democrats and independents, to make the final decision.
"This is going around the primary process,'' Pearce said. "Jerry Lewis could not win in a (Republican) primary.''
Mesa city councilman Dennis Kavanaugh, who represents about half of District 18, said at the Lewis campaign party he wasn't surprised by Lewis' lead. The district is politically diverse, he said, especially among independents.
Pearce and SB 1070 were popular when the law was passed in 2010, but criticism grew this spring when Pearce pushed a new round of anti-illegal immigration legislation. The Republican supermajority in the Senate couldn't muster enough support for the bill. And the bill triggered a letter from the CEOs of some of Arizona's largest companies urging the Legislature to put a hold on new immigration laws.
In an interview with Capitol Media Services, Pearce said he would not have done anything any different since he was first elected to the Legislature in 2000. That includes not only his high-profile sponsorship of bills aimed at curbing illegal immigration but other issues where he has helped get legislation approved.
"We're No. 1 in the nation in Second Amendment liberties,'' said Pearce, who helped push through laws allowing any adult to carry a concealed weapon. "We're one of the top in the nation in laws that protect the unborn.''
"So what else would I do differently?'' he asked. "I'm pretty proud of that record.''
Lewis said SB 1070 went too far, but neither he nor recall organizers made that a major issue. The charter school executive and recall organizers criticized Pearce for focusing too much on a single issue instead of the economy, jobs and education funding.
Lewis, too, drew fire for saying some viewed Arizona akin to 1964 Alabama.
Pearce raised nearly $230,000 compared with Lewis's total of about $68,000. Lewis' support came primarily from individuals in Mesa, while Pearce enjoyed money from political action committees and people outside Arizona.
Lewis said he'd do more to work on the economy, jobs and education funding, and that he would listen to people involved before acting. But he offered few specifics during the campaign.
Pearce supporters portrayed the recall as a liberal effort, as it was led by Randy Parraz, a Democrat who doesn't live in Mesa. Parraz's Citizens for a Better Arizona had included Republicans.
Parraz said Tuesday night that the results weren't surprising after talking to voters and hearing they were upset with education cuts and issues beyond illegal immigration.
"We didn't build this overnight," Parraz said. "We've been working for 10 months. "Russell Pearce ignored us for most of that time."
Recall volunteer Brenda Rascon cried Tuesday night, saying she objected to Pearce using the term "invasion" to describe illegal immigrants. Rascon said her parents were immigrants.
She also objected to the Legislature cutting funds for organ transplants. Her mother's kidneys failed before she died.
"We took down the most powerful politician in Arizona," she said, "and all we had to do was talk to people."
Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services contributed to this report.