Olivia Cortes drops out of recall race hours before debate

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

MESA, Ariz. -- Olivia Cortes, who has been accused of being a sham candidate, has dropped out of the race for Russell Pearce's Senate seat representing Legislative District 18.

Cortes, who earlier this week vowed not to "back down,"  filed withdrawal papers with the Secretary of States Office Thursday afternoon, hours before she was set to face-off with State Senate President Russell Pearce and charter school executive Jerry Lewis in a debate.

In a statement Cortes said: "Due to the constant intimidation and harassment of me, my family, friends, and neighbors I have decided to drop out of the race for state senator in LD 18. It has become obvious that it will never end, and they want me to spend my money on lawyers instead of campaigning.  So for me, the dream of having a voice has died."

Cortes and her candidacy have been the subject of speculation and court filings for the past several weeks.

Many believe her to be a sham candidate, encouraged by Pearce supporters to run in an effort to split the vote with Lewis, thus helping Pearce keep his seat.

Cortes denied that, saying she truly wanted to win.

She was granted a legal win on Monday by a Maricopa County Superior Court judge who ruled she had a right to stay on the ballot.

Cortes and her campaign team were due back in court Friday for a second round of hearings on their intentions and the legitimacy of their campaign.

Attorney Anthony Tsontakis confirmed to 3TV that his client, Cortes, accepted an offer by attorneys for a Pearce critic to cancel that scheduled court hearing if she stepped out of the race. That hearing has since been vacated.

Thomas Ryan, the attorney for Mesa resident Mary Lou Boettcher, who had sued to get Cortes off the ballot, said Cortes did not back out of the race by choice.

"Cortes withdrew today not on her own volition, but because she and Pearce forces understood tomorrow was going to be a disaster for them," Ryan said at a news conference on Thursday.

Cortes' name will still appear on the ballot because the ballots have already been printed and early voting for overseas residents is under way.

Campaign representatives for Jerry Lewis said although Cortes will no longer run, she has already done damage.

"The timing for this is sad because the ballots have already been printed, so for the folks that pulled off this fraud, I'm afraid it's mission accomplished," said John Giles, Lewis' spokesperson.

Senator Pearce was unavailable for comment, but his spokesman Ed Phillips said it was "sad" if Cortes really dropped out because the legal challenges were taking a toll on her finances, as she suggested in her statement.

Matthew Roberts of the Secretary of State's Office said there will be signs posted at the polls and  information on the office's website reminding voters that Cortes is not a candidate and votes for her will not be counted even though her name is on the ballot.

The recall election became official in July when election officials certified that Citizens for a Better Arizona had collected enough valid signatures to force a recall of of Pearce. Since then, however, the race has been surrounded by controversy and apparent political maneuverings, including Cortes' candidacy.

The election is scheduled for November 8.