Standing in the lobby of the Arizona Secretary of State's Office, having just dropped off more than 14,500 signatures to place his name on the ballot for Attorney General, former Arizona gaming director Mark Brnovich exuded the kind of confidence you'd expect from a candidate facing a primary opponent mired in scandal.
"Tom Horne will not be the nominee," Brnovich told reporters Wednesday afternoon. "So if he really cared about the Republican brand, if he really cared about the party, if he really cared about Arizona, he would do the right thing and agree not to run for re-election."
I won't turn blue waiting for that one. They'll have to drag Horne out of the AG's office in his chair, with him white-knuckling the latest version of his "Border Patrol" donors list.
Still, Brnovich seemed genuinely jazzed about his numbers.
"We've got great grassroots support, and this is just an indication of it," he enthused.
He then borrowed a line from Muhammad Ali, circa 50 years ago, the first time Ali whipped Sonny Liston, while Ali was still known as Cassius Clay.
"We're going to shake up the world," he promised, a la Clay.
Indeed, Brnovich's 14,500-plus number was a little more than two and a-half times the amount of valid signatures needed to earn a spot on the ballot.
For what it's worth, his numbers blew Horne's away.
According to the Secretary of State, Horne recently submitted 7,819 signatures, a paltry figure for a statewide, incumbent office-holder.
The minimum number required for the Republican primary in a statewide race is 5,651.
But pols like to pad their numbers, because a lot of signatures are sure to be thrown out, and for bragging rights.
Democrat Felecia Rotellini, whom Horne bested in 2010 by a mere 60,000 votes, submitted 13,444 signatures on May 19, according to the SOS.
She needed 4,804, meaning she turned in a lot more than two and a-half times the minimum.
Asked later that day for a comment on Brnovich's filing, Rotellini's campaign manager Luis Heredia dissed Brnovich's achievement as mere AstroTurf.
"Brnovich hired paid circulators to inflate his weak position in this campaign," Heredia stated via e-mail. "We filed 13,500 signatures last Monday, ten days before the deadline, to focus on fundraising and grassroots organizing. We filed more petitions today in a supplemental filing."
Told of Heredia's slight, Brnovich's campaign manager Ryan Anderson fired back.
"It's telling that Felecia's team is now taking shots at Brnovich." Anderson told me. "They finally recognize who the real competition is this November."
He conceded that Brnovich had some paid help, hardly a first in politics.
"Yes, we did incentivize some of our collectors," Anderson said, when I asked him about it. "But the truth is that the far majority of these people are real hardworking folks who worked their asses off, in far less time than Felecia had."
At the SOS's office, I asked Brnovich what he thought of the Dems' claim that he's just another Tea Party shill.
I mean, listening to some of them, you'd think Brnovich had his bags packed and was headed for the Bundy Ranch.
Brnovich played up the law enforcement aspect of his career, having worked both at the AG's office and at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, hardly anti-gub'mint gigs.
"If you look at my background," he said, "I've spent most of my career...working with law enforcement, police agencies on the federal and state level to keep our communities safe. That's what I'm going to do as Attorney General...I'm going to do everything I can to bring [law enforcement] resources together to protect the most vulnerable people in our society."
Then he veered into Republican red meat territory.
"At the same time," he added, "I think there are some serious issues with the overreach of the Obama administration. Whether it's the EPA's war on coal, whether it's radicals in the [EPA] that want to kill jobs in Indian country and hurt the Native American communities in Northern Arizona...whether it's an attempt to basically socialize medicine...I think we need to be fully engaged in this state in pushing back against the overreach of the Obama administration."
Does that mean he's opposed to the state's Medicaid expansion, as signed into law by the lady who used to be his boss, Governor Jan Brewer?
"At the end of the day," he replied, "when you're the attorney general, you don't get to pick winners and losers in the marketplace, and you don't get to pick and choose which laws you want to enforce or not. That's up to the legislature and the governor."
He stated that the AG has "an obligation to defend state statutes," and that "disagreeing with the law" doesn't count as a conflict requiring outside counsel.
As for whether he opposed the Medicaid expansion before it became law, he dodged that one.
"I'm now in a position, with ongoing litigation, where I may be forced to defend that law," Brnovich said. "So at this point it's moot. Tom Horne had an opportunity to speak and weigh in on it, including the constitutionality aspect, which I think is a very, very serious issue, but that opportunity's been lost now."
Nice way to bring it back to Horne, without stating outright that he was opposed to the expansion.
I suspect that when it comes to certain issues dear to the hearts of Sand Land right-wingers, Brnovich will have chalk on his shoes for the remainder of the primary.
He'll sometimes lean hard to the right, but not so much that he can't ease back to center-right, should he be the nominee and have to face Rotellini, a centrist Dem who can appeal to Republicans.
Horne will attack Brnovich from the far right, because Horne has nowhere else to go. That plays into Rotellini's hands, because the further right Brnovich tips, the more ammo she'll have, should Brnovich bury Horne.
Add to this, that Rotellini may have raised $1.5 million by the time the general election rolls around. This, while Horne and Brnovich have been beating each other up in the primary, competing for the same pile of money.
No doubt Rotellini would rather go up against the devil she knows best, a yet-to-be-indicted Horne, who might as well be wearing Ronald McDonald shoes at this point.
Brnovich, a likable mensch who quotes Bob Dylan and Ali with ease, does not fit into the role the Dems have assigned him, that of Teabagger extremist.
Recently, a member of the Rotellini camp told me off the record that the message they want out there about Brnovich is that, "He's Jon Kyl."
You mean the conservative Arizona politician who did 8 years in the U.S. House and 18 in the U.S. Senate?
Sure, Kyl (who has endorsed Brnovich, natch) is anathema to the left, but he was not anathema to the general electorate.
Dems often forget that what plays with Democrats -- like the vilification (often justified) of the Goldwater Institute and private prison giant Corrections Corporation of America, both of which Brnovich has ties with -- is not ordinarily the stuff of mainstream politics in this state.
True, Brnovich's GI ties will be a liability when it comes to winning support from certain cop unions. Like the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, a union so sleazy and reprehensible that the mere mention of it makes me want to spit.
Nevertheless, Ds and Rs alike vie for its endorsement, for obvious reasons.
Rotellini's appeal has always been what traditionally wins for Democrats in Arizona: a pro-business, pro-law-enforcement D, who can peel off Republicans voters.
As for the Rs, if they cannot unite behind Brnovich, Rotellini will fry 'em up like a funnel cake and serve 'em for a snack at her victory party come November.
State GOPers eager to keep the AG's office should think of Brnovich the way Princess Leia once thought of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
You know, as their only hope.
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