First-time candidate Mark Brnovich defeated embattled Attorney General Tom Horne in the Republican primary Tuesday.
Brnovich’s win ends a turbulent four years in office for Horne and sets up what is expected to be a tough general-election race against Democrat Felecia Rotellini.
Horne refused to concede late Tuesday night, saying the race reminded him of the 2010 campaign, when he was down early but ultimately prevailed.
“I learned that sometimes things change over time,” Horne said.
Brnovich’s campaign focused on convincing voters that investigations into Horne’s public conduct and controversies over his personal life made him unfit for a second term. Horne’s loss is the first time in more than a decade that an incumbent in a top statewide office had lost a Republican primary.
Brnovich is a former state and federal prosecutor, the state’s former gaming director and head of the Goldwater Institute think tank.
“Arizona voters expect an attorney general with integrity and character, someone with convictions not only in the courtroom but in personal and family life,” Brnovich said, adding that in the general election he will continue to campaign on that theme.
The 2010 general race between Horne and Rotellini was close, with Horne winning by 60,000 votes out of more than 1.6 million.
Horne focused his message on touting his conservative agenda, saying he spent the past four years in office taking on the federal government, illegal immigration and unions while protecting Arizonans.
“I try to sue Obama two times before breakfast every day,” Horne told voters at campaign gatherings, mentioning the two cases he’s argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.
But during the campaign he struggled to get that message heard over attacks from Brnovich, who focused his campaign on questioning whether Horne was fit to be the state’s chief legal officer because of multiple investigations into allegations Horne broke election and campaign-finance laws.
Horne is under investigation by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission and outside attorneys hired by the solicitor general. The investigations were launched after a former staffer claimed Horne and top staffers illegally worked on his 2014 re-election campaign while on state time.
Separately, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk is pursuing a case against Horne involving alleged campaign- finance violations dating to his 2010 run for office. An administrative law judge earlier this year determined there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the allegations but Polk said she will still pursue the case.
In addition to the elections inquiries, FBI reports suggest that Horne, who is married, in 2012 was having an affair with an employee and was involved in the hit-and-run of a parked vehicle.
Horne has denied any wrongdoing and dismisses allegations as headlines embellished by the “liberal press.”
Brnovich repeatedly during the campaign talked about principles, integrity and values while offering few details of what he may do if elected. Brnovich has said he would responsibly “wield the sword of justice” to protect and defend the vulnerable, such as the unborn and the elderly.
On illegal immigration, Brnovich, the son of a Yugoslav immigrant mother who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, says he opposes “amnesty” and will continue to support Gov. Brewer’s executive order banning driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.
A number of voters interviewed said they cast their ballot for Brnovich more because he wasn’t Horne than because of any stance Brnovich had taken.
Mimi Rockel, a registered independent, said she voted for “The guy who’s running against Tom Horne. I know nothing about him; I just know he’s not Tom Horne.”
Rotellini gave a rousing speechto supporters Tuesday night, promising to restore integrity to the office. She also took a swipe at Brnovich, accusing him of being in the pocket of the prison lobby. “I am running for attorney general to return the office to its mission of prosecuting criminals and protecting Arizona families,” she said.
The last time a GOP incumbent in one of the state’s top offices lost a primary race was in 2002, when Horne defeated then-state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jaime Molera.
Republic reporters Dennis Wagner and Richard Ruelas contributed to this article.