The upcoming Arizona Attorney General's Republican primary is chiefly about the character of Tom Horne, the scandal-ridden incumbent.
But opponent Mark Brnovich's campaign can't simply hang a scarlet "A" on Horne's chest and call it a day. He has to convince Republican voters around the state that he can not only beat potential general-election rival Felecia Rotellini, a Democrat, but be the sort of Obama-fighter conservatives are looking for.
To that end, on Wednesday afternoon Brnovich and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery brought right-wing icon Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma's attorney general, to the State Capitol to help pump up Brnovich's conservative credentials.
Pruitt didn't criticize Horne at the noontime, outdoor news conference, instead using his time in front of the news media to rip the Obama Administration.
A deacon at the First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow, near Tulsa, Pruitt once authored an anti-evolution education bill when he was a state lawmaker. As Oklahoma's AG, he's received national recognition as an Obamacare opponent with a lawsuit that some believe has the potential to "knock out" the Affordable Care Act. He's running unopposed for re-election this year in his home state.
President Obama "unilaterally amended and repealed various parts of the Affordable Care Act," Pruitt said on Wednesday, adding that he thought such actions were "dangerous" to the "rule of law."
"Attorneys general, more so than anyone else at the state level," protect state citizens from the destruction of checks and balances in government, he said. He praised efforts in which he's joined other attorneys general in trying to beat back bad decisions from the National Labor Relations Board and Environmental Protection Agency.
He sees Brnovich as a potential "partner" in Arizona "dedicated to the principles of federalism (and) responding to the overreach of Washington."
Pruitt noted Brnovich's experience as a prosecutor at the state and federal levels, and also as former director of the Arizona Department of Gaming. He also likes Brnovich's "passion."
Brnovich followed by vowing to fight this "overreach of the Obama Administration," giving the example of the EPA's push to close the Four Corners Generating Station, a coal plant in the Navajo Nation.
Horne hasn't been conservative or "vigorous" enough in helping Arizonans thwart the federal government, Brnovich claimed.
For instance, Horne telling Urban Outfitters to quit selling a coffee mug that supposedly trivialized pain-killer addiction was a "misplaced priority," he said. Brnovich dinged Horne for joining U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's unsuccessful move to stop the merger of U.S. Airways and American Airlines. And Horne didn't join other AGs to block the Obama Administration's interpretations of law designed to keep air and water clean, Brnovich complained.
"Some things that Tom has done you may tip your hat to, but at the end of the day, he's MIA on so many issues," he said.
Bill Montgomery criticized Horne for leading from behind in the (ultimately unsuccessful) defense of Arizona's law to ban abortions after 20 weeks.
But the denouement of the 20-minute news conference came near the end, when Montgomery talked about Horne's conviction last year for a property-damage hit-and-run.
"He sat there for 20 seconds pondering, 'Do I report this? Do I allow myself then to face additional questions about why I've got a red ball cap on, sitting in somebody else's car with a different woman than my wife? Or do I drive away and hope nobody saw me do it?' He did the wrong thing," Montgomery said.
Horne's been involved in serious scandals with allegations of breaking campaign-finance laws, obstructing justice, misusing state resources and destroying public documents. But it's the open adultery that likely rankles conservatives most.
In any case, his troubles put him in serious danger of losing November's general election to Democrat Felecia Rotellini, should voters give him the August 26 primary. Although a poll in June showed that Republican voters tend to prefer nearly anyone to Horne, it remains a question as to whether Brnovich has a good chance at beating Rotellini, who far outpaces Brnovich in fundraising.
Campaign-finance records show Brnovich has not come close to keeping pace even with Horne in fundraising, and that Horne has continued to pull in contributions despite bad publicity, as least as of late May.
Casting Brnovich as a potential Obama-fighter and staunch conservative might bring in some badly needed dough.
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