MESA, Ariz. — At first glance, it had the makings of a spirited election: the leader of Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigration facing off at the polls with an immigrant from Mexico who believed that the state had gone too far.
But the immigrant, Olivia Cortes, a retiree who filed papers in July to challenge the State Senate president, Russell Pearce, disappeared from the political scene last week just as quickly as she had appeared. Ms. Cortes’s candidacy for a legislative district in this working-class community east of Phoenix, it now appears, had been a dirty trick.
Critics of Mr. Pearce’s hard-line approach to illegal immigration collected enough signatures to force him into a recall election in November. But allies of Mr. Pearce, who is one of the state’s most powerful politicians, did not take that humiliation lightly. They recruited Ms. Cortes in what was an effort to split the anti-Pearce vote, particularly among Latinos, a judge later found.
Greg Western, a Pearce ally who is the chairman of the East Valley Tea Party, was a central figure in the scheme and became Ms. Cortes’s campaign adviser. Soon, signs promoting Ms. Cortes’s candidacy appeared on street corners, bearing the motto made famous by Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers: “Sí, Se Puede!”
Ms. Cortes avoided the news media for weeks, and the few interviews she did give showed her to be shaky on the issues. Her candidacy began falling apart after another candidate, Jerry Lewis, who like Mr. Pearce is a Republican, began his own campaign. Allies of Mr. Lewis’s went to court to challenge Ms. Cortes’s election bid as a sham.
The judge, Edward O. Burke of Superior Court of Maricopa County, declined to remove her from the ballot but did say that the evidence suggested that some of her so-called supporters really supported Mr. Pearce. “The court finds that Pearce supporters recruited Cortes, a political neophyte, to run in the recall election to siphon Hispanic votes from Lewis to advance Pearce’s recall election bid,” the judge said in his ruling.
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