The hotly anticipated rematch between Tom Horne and Felecia Rotellini will not come to pass.
Instead, Rotellini will take on former Arizona Department of Gaming Director Mark Brnovich in the attorney general’s race. Brnovich handed Horne a historic defeat in the Republican primary, capitalizing on more than two years of scandals, allegations and bad press for the incumbent attorney general.
Many observers on both sides of the aisle view Rotellini as the Democrats’ best chance of winning a statewide office. She’s a battle-tested candidate who lost to Horne by just 3.8 percentage points in 2010, the Tea Party wave year when every other statewide Democratic nominee in Arizona lost by double digits.
Rotellini has raised nearly $1.1 million and has more than $800,000 on hand as she heads into the general election, while Brnovich, whose fundraising in the primary was anemic, reported he had only about $53,000 left through mid-August.
Things got bad enough for Horne that many Democrats were openly rooting for him in the primary, and many Republicans feel the Brnovich’s win saved the party from certain defeat in November. Brnovich garnered the support of numerous prominent Republicans, including Gov. Jan Brewer, former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.
“Brnovich with $5 would have been a tougher opponent,” said GOP campaign consultant Brian Murray.
Murray said Rotellini is a strong candidate with experience and money. But he said things will turn around quickly for Brnovich in the fundraising department, where many Republicans were wary of contributing to him because he was running against an incumbent in his own party.
Now that the primary is over, Brnovich will also have a better chance to define himself. Throughout the campaign, Brnovich has struggled against the perception that he was simply “not Tom Horne” and repeatedly stressed that he has a strong resumé that includes time as a state and federal prosecutor.
“I’ll put my resumé against anyone,” Brnovich said, emphasizing that he has tried hundreds of criminal cases and ran a state law enforcement agency, the Arizona Department of Gaming.
Now, he’ll get a chance to compare that resumé against Rotellini, who is also a former assistant attorney general. Brnovich said he’s confident as he heads into the general election matchup.
“We’ve already accomplished what she was unable to do, and that was beat Tom Horne,” Brnovich said.
Kurt Davis, a Republican lobbyist, said Horne had no chance of winning the general election, and that Brnovich is a far more attractive candidate. But he said he views Rotellini as the frontrunner, a rare position for a Democrat in Republican-controlled Arizona.
“She’s got money in the bank. She has residual name ID. She knows the rivers,” Davis said. “This is all new for Mark Brnovich.”
Luis Heredia, Rotellini’s campaign manager, said she is a strong candidate regardless of who her opponent is, and is confident about her prospects in the general election. Though Horne “did a number on himself,” Heredia said Brnovich has issues of his own, highlighting his past as a lobbyist for private prisons and his work for the conservative Goldwater Institute, among other issues.
“Brnovich’s entire campaign was that he was not Tom Horne,” Heredia said. “Felecia said it best … That was a very low bar.”
But Heredia emphasized that the campaign is about Rotellini, not her opponent.
“Felecia has a better track record of delivering results,” he said. “She has the qualifications to be a top attorney general.”
In 2012, the FBI and Maricopa County Attorney’s Office determined that Horne illegally coordinated with an independent expenditure campaign run by Kathleen Winn, an ally and now aide, during his 2010 race against Rotellini. Yavapai County prosecutors are still pursuing the allegations against Horne and Winn, ignoring an administrative law judge’s recommendation that the case be dismissed.
Horne pleaded no contest in 2013 to a minor hit-and-run in which he backed into a parked car in a downtown Phoenix parking garage. The incident was witnessed by FBI agents who were following Horne as part of their investigation into the alleged coordination. The agents also alleged that Horne was having an extramarital affair with a woman who worked in his office and who was in the car with him at the time of the accident.
And in April, former staffer Sarah Beattie accused Horne of using the Attorney General’s Office as his personal campaign headquarters. Beattie claimed that numerous government staffers, including herself, routinely engaged in campaign activities during the work day. Election and law enforcement officials are investigating the allegations.
Horne has repeatedly denied the allegations of coordination and Beattie’s claims, and portrayed himself as a victim of vendettas by political opponents and the “liberal media.”
Despite Horne’s many problems, Brnovich said it was a tough race.
“Any time you take on an incumbent in your own party… it’s an extremely uphill climb. And when you combine that with the fact that he outspent me four to one, you look at it on paper, and I shouldn’t be standing where I’m standing now,” Brnovich told the Arizona Capitol Times. “It is unprecedented. We shook up the world.”
Brnovich took nearly 54 percent of the vote compared to nearly 46 percent for Horne. The morning after the Aug. 26 election, Horne conceded the race, though The Associated Press and others had already called the race the night before.
“Mark has a tough race ahead, and I wish him the best and (offer) my full support in the months to come,” Horne said in a press statement.