Tom Horne played it safe long after the polls closed, but the Republican attorney general hopeful declared victory after his 5-point lead held through the night.
Democrat Felecia Rotellini played it even safer, but finally conceded several days later.
The GOP nominee defeated Rotellini 52-48, overcoming a national Democratic organization’s spending spree in the last weeks of the campaign. But even with nearly $1 million in outside spending, Rotellini was unable counter the Republican wave.
Horne, who has served as state superintendent of public instruction since 2003, was reserved in his comments on election night, even as others called the race. But in the early morning hours of Nov. 3, he finally felt comfortable enough to declare victory, even without a concession from Rotellini.
The Attorney General’s Office, which has been held by Democrat Terry Goddard since 2003, was the one statewide office to switch hands on Nov. 2. The win completed a GOP sweep of Arizona’s six statewide executive offices.
Horne vowed to defend Arizona in numerous lawsuits against SB1070, the state’s strict new illegal immigration law, and fight the federal government’s health care reform bill in court.
“As of this coming January when I take office, I intend to defend SB1070 all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary, join the other states in the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of ObamaCare, strictly enforce the laws so we are safe in our homes and communities, and create a legal environment that is conducive to business growth,” Horne said in a press release.
Gov. Jan Brewer represented the state in both cases. Goddard declined to join a multi-state lawsuit against the health care bill, and though he vowed to defend SB1070, Brewer forced him to the sidelines after he expressed opposition to the bill.
As Horne’s lead held up, Rotellini still held out hope that the numbers would shift. By 9:30 p.m., she was the last statewide Democratic candidate still walking around the party’s election night event at the Wyndham. She said she was hopeful and said trends were moving in her favor, though Horne’s lead hadn’t changed much since the first results came in from Maricopa County.
Rotellini still held out hope, albeit a slim one. As of Nov. 3, there were still about 290,000 early ballots and 84,000 provisional ballots left to be counted across the state.
Two days after the election, Rotellini’s campaign said it would be premature to make an announcement about such a close race while so many ballots were still uncounted.
But by Nov. 9, Rotellini still trailed by about 45,000 votes. By that time, only about 45,000 early ballots and 67,000 provisional ballots were still uncounted statewide.
In a statement to her supporters, Rotellini said she had called Horne and congratulated him. She said the closeness of her race showed how much her message resonated with voters.
“Our fight for Arizona families and for a better Arizona is not over. In many ways, we have just begun,” Rotellini said in her statement. “So, let’s get to work. We have two years until our next election cycle to ramp up awareness, to register more Democrats, recruit more precinct committee persons and to prepare for 2012.”
Many Democrats viewed Rotellini, who served as the state’s top banking chief until 2009, as their best hope for winning a statewide office. The Republican victory ends Democrats’ 12-year hold on the Attorney General’s Office.
For Horne, the victory caps a grueling campaign that featured one of the most vicious primary races in the state. The two-term state superintendent beat former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas in a race defined by unrelenting attacks from both sides.
Thomas entered the race as a conservative icon. But parts of his base turned on him over allegations that he used his office to launch politically motivated prosecutions against his enemies would make him unelectable in the general election.
Even after stoking those fears and spending $300,000 of his own money, Horne beat Thomas by less than 1,000 votes in a race that wasn’t officially decided for days after the Aug. 24 primary.
While the Republican primary was widely expected to come down to the wire, many Democrats were uneasy after Rotellini narrowly escaped an upset in her three-way primary. House Minority Leader David Lujan fell short by less than 2,500 votes in the surprisingly tight race.
After dealing with the departure of several top staffers and rumors that her war chest was nearly empty, Rotellini rebounded late in the campaign. Former Attorney General Grant Woods led “Republicans for Felecia” and was featured in ads backing Rotellini, whom he hired in the 1990s, while the Democratic Attorneys General Association made a $600,000 ad buy for the ex-prosecutor about two weeks before the general election.
But Horne and the Republican State Leadership Committee continually slammed Rotellini for her opposition to SB1070, the state’s controversial but popular illegal immigration law, and ties to unions that boycotted Arizona after it passed. Several independent expenditures backed Horne as well, offsetting the outside money that poured in for Rotellini.
Horne speaks speaks to his supporters on election night
Felecia Rottelini addresses her supporters on election night