Tom Horne, Andy Thomas Bloody Each Other in Horizon Debate

If you missed the "Clean Elections" Republican state Attorney General debate last night on Horizon between state schools superintendent Tom Horne and former Maricopa County Attorney Andy Thomas, it was a real cage fight. I'm surprised blood didn't spatter the TV screen. Fortunately, if you enjoy mortal combat, you can watch Horizon's video of same above.

Thomas opened up swinging, bringing up the recent controversy over Horne not disclosing a decades-old bankruptcy and receiving a lifelong ban from the Securities and Exchange Commission. (My colleague Ray Stern blogged about that issue at length, here.)

But Horne landed solid blows in his rebuttal, roughing up Thomas considerably in the process. Horne accused Thomas of trying to distract people from Thomas' record of police-state activities while a county attorney.

"Why would he try to deflect attention to something that happened 40 years ago?" asked Horne. "Because as we speak, he's under investigation by the FBI, and an indictment may well follow. And as we speak, he's under investigation by the state bar, and a disbarment may well follow. Because a court found that he had prosecuted people for personal political purposes and for personal political retribution.

"And it's against the law to use the power of government to go after people, to go after your adversaries. He went after four judges who had ruled against him instead of appealing their decisions which you normally do. He accused each one of them of bribery and extortion without any evidence. He had to drop all four cases because he had no evidence."

Later, Horne quoted the famous letter from Republican Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, describing the antics of Thomas and Sheriff Joe Arpaio as "the totalitarianism that is spreading before my eyes." And he kept hitting Thomas with the catchphrase, "You can't trust Andrew Thomas," which, of course, you can't.

But Thomas got meaner as the debate went on, calling Horne, "a confessed con artist," arguing that Horne was pro-amnesty for illegal aliens, and asking Horne if he was pro-life or pro-choice more than once, a question Horne avoided.

Perhaps Thomas' best line of the evening was, "I've reduced crime, he's reduced test scores."

Although Horne started strong, he seemed to be on the defensive for much of the debate, even having to justify his switch from the Democratic Party to the GOP many years ago, citing Ronald Reagan as the ultimate example of a Dem-turned-Republican.

How all this plays in a statewide race, I'm unsure. If the primary race was for Maricopa County Attorney, Thomas' appeal to the far right base that dominates the GOP here might pull him through. But even locally, Thomas has stomped on a number of moderate GOPers during his war on the judges and county officials, which has soured him with less rabid Republicans.

Outside the county, the GOP is not quite the same animal. One would think Horne's more measured tone would play better statewide.

I must admit, it was a fun bout to watch. Personally, I think the Republicans benefit from their bloodsport politics. It leaves them with a stronger candidate to go after a Dem in the general election. Those Democrats running for state AG need to pay attention and sharpen their knives. A candidate sans street fighting skills is worthless in this state.

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