Horne could face challenger in GOP primary

2013-04-23T00:00:00Z Horne could face challenger in GOP primaryHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
April 23, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - State Attorney General Tom Horne could have to fend off a bid to keep him from getting his own party's nomination for re-election.

Mark Brnovich confirmed Friday he is "seriously considering" whether to challenge Horne in the Republican primary. Brnovich, who currently is state gaming director, said he is being urged to jump into the race by people active in GOP politics.

Brnovich wouldn't talk about whether those requests or his decision are linked to Horne's current problems, which include hit-and-run charges after a vehicle he was driving bumped another car and civil charges of alleged campaign finance violations in his successful 2010 race.

"I don't want to get into details of any conversations I may or may not have had with folks," he said.

But those problems - along with questions raised about where Horne was going with a female employee when FBI agents said they saw him hit that other vehicle - may have made the incumbent politically vulnerable. Brnovich said if he does enter the race, one of the issues will be "who has the character ... to be the best attorney general."

Horne declined to comment about a possible primary battle.

Democrat Felecia Rotellini, who ran against Horne in 2010, is already laying the groundwork for another shot, making Horne's troubles a public issue. In press releases she said the state does not need an attorney general who "is accused of violating laws he is supposed to enforce."

Three years ago, Horne won with less than 52 percent of the vote, despite a GOP voter registration edge - and that was before his current troubles.

Republican political strategist Chuck Coughlin said he's not convinced Horne can be knocked off in a GOP primary, or if Brnovich, who has never held political office, is the one to do it.

Coughlin acknowledged the negative publicity surrounding Horne, but said that may not matter.

"Incumbency has its power to be able to control the discussion and control the agenda," he said.

Coughlin said Horne has gained points with things like the recent victory in federal court ending a 21-year-old challenge to how schools teach English to students who come from homes where English is not the predominant language.

Horne also has taken to personally arguing high-profile cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including one about whether the state can require those who register to vote to first prove citizenship.

"He seems to have found a bit of a stride here recently in being able to identify and handle the media cycle of bad news," Coughlin said.

Coughlin also said Horne may be able to turn some of what has happened into his favor.

It was two FBI agents, in tailing him as part of an investigation into the practices of public officials, who were the witnesses to Horne parking his own vehicle in a state garage and then getting into another car with a female employee and driving away. They also witnessed Horne bumping another vehicle and then driving off.

Horne said whatever occurred caused no real visible damages and denied guilt.

Coughlin said the fact the FBI was tailing him and no federal charges were ever filed could play in Horne's favor.

"That's a good Republican talking point right there. ... Tom can play the martyr victim."

Before heading the agency responsible for overseeing tribal gaming, Brnovich was a state and federal prosecutor.

He also has deep contacts in the conservative wing of the party, in part because of two years he spent at the Goldwater Institute. While there, he opposed a statewide ban on smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants, calling it an interference with property rights and the free market. Voters subsequently approved a ballot measure approving such restrictions.

On StarNet: Go to azstarnet.com/politics to read more about local and state government and political news

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