Tom Horne Inches Ahead of Andrew Thomas in Attorney General Race; Jason Rose Throws Thomas Under the Bus

Tom Horne, later in the evening, as he opened up a tentative lead over rival Andrew Thomas
Tom Horne, later in the evening, as he opened up a tentative lead over rival Andrew Thomas

Can we finally say sayonara to Sith Lord and former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas?

Thomas's unctuous campaign flack, spin-pimp Jason Rose thinks so. Last night, with Thomas's early lead over state Schools Superintendent Tom Horne in the GOP primary for Attorney General evaporating, Rose tweeted this ice-pick to Thomas's kidneys:

"The jaguar roars: congrats 2 be in order to a hard fought victory by tom horne [sic]."

Hey, so much for loyalty. Rose must've already cashed his check. 

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You see, Thomas has yet to concede, even though his early lead over Horne went from 51 to 49 percent to a near-tie, with Horne edging ahead of Thomas by around 400 votes early Wednesday morning.

At 1:30 a.m., Horne, who was following the returns from the home of a supporter in north central Phoenix, wasn't willing to go as far as Rose.

Horne early on with volunteer Peter Laing, glued to the returns
Horne early on with volunteer Peter Laing, glued to the returns

"It's not over," said Horne calmly. "I'm not going to make any statement until the provisional [ballots] are in."

Yet, Horne was clearly pleased with the reversal of fortune. 

When he arrived at the watch-party shortly after 8 p.m., Horne explained that, "My anxiety is in the stratosphere."

And as the evening wore on and Thomas's lead initially held firm, Horne looked pale and at times distraught. Friends and campaign workers watched TV screens throughout the house with an increasing sense of trepidation.

But as the gap between Horne and Thomas closed, the mood lifted. At 9 p.m., the race was still 51-49 percent favoring Thomas. By 20 till 11 p.m, they were tied at 50-50. Within the hour, as results trickled in, Horne inched ahead by 71 votes, and a cheer tore through the Horne camp.

"I wish I could see Thomas's face now," exclaimed one Horne supporter. 

Horne volunteer Peter Laing worked the room's laptop, calling out the incremental advance as soon as there was any change on the Maricopa County elections site. Horne took up residence on a nearby couch and began fielding calls from reporters asking for a comment on what promised to be a victory. 

When one volunteer spotted Rose's tweets on an iPhone, the feeling in the room quickly became one of near-euphoria, tempered by the fact that Thomas remained within 300 to 400 votes of Horne's edge. Even Horne was amazed by Rose's take on the campaign.

"You've got to see this tweet," he told one staffer. "It's unbelievable."

(Rose had tweeted earlier in the evening, while Thomas was still ahead, you see.)

Supporters grew increasingly elated. Horne kept advising them it was too soon, the results too tenuous. People discussed the possibility of a recount if the race remained too close. 

Campaign worker Kathleen Winn took pride in the votes for Horne pouring in from other counties.

"This is a moral victory for us all," she said.

Out in the backyard, men lit up cigars. But Horne remained inside, glued to every utterance from Laing.

"A very sophisticated consultant said to me, `Tom, it's going but to be a tough night, but a good morning,'" Horne told me at one point.

He remained peeved by Sheriff Joe Arpaio's controversial campaign ads attacking him, and the charge from Thomas that Horne was pro-amnesty for illegal aliens. Horne said he'd spoken with Arpaio about the claim.

"I said, `Joe, that's not true, I've never been for amnesty,'" Horne recalled. "He said, `Well, I hear these people say it.' I said, `I'm telling you it's not true, they're just repeating what Thomas told them.' That was pretty much the conversation."

He bemoaned the tenor of the campaign, saying it was the ugliest one of his career. Some in the pro-Horne camp swore, off the record, that they could never vote for Thomas if the tide reversed itself again. They said they'd rather vote for Democrat Felecia Rotellini, who remains in a squeaker for the Dems' AG nod with state House minority leader David Lujan.

In general, most at the party believed interim Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley's revelation that a grand jury had passed on Thomas's drive to indict county officials had hurt Thomas. The consensus was this had given many Republicans second thoughts about electing a loose cannon to be the state's top lawyer.

I agree with this assessment, though it's a tribute to the enduring GOP mania with illegal immigration that Thomas, despite his arrogance and willingness to pursue anyone who displeases him regardless of party affiliation, received so much support. Though Horne is conservative, Thomas leads the extremist march on immigration, an extremism that is these days disturbingly mainstream.

Campaign workers took pleasure in mocking Thomas for showing up at Republican Party state headquarters earlier in the evening, acting like he'd won. This morning Horne seemed concerned that he not repeat Thomas's mistake and claim victory prematurely.

"I just don't feel like making a fool out of myself," he explained.

That's a sense of caution, and perhaps humility, that Thomas obviously lacks.

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