Embattled state Attorney General Tom Horne could have to fend off a bid to keep him from getting his own party's nomination for reelection.
Mark Brnovich confirmed Friday he is "seriously considering'' whether to challenge Horne in the Republican primary. Brnovich, who currently is state gaming director, said he is being urged to jump into the race by people active in GOP politics.
Brnovich sidestepped questions of whether those requests -- or decision he will make -- are linked to Horne's current problems. That includes facing hit-and-run charges after a vehicle he was driving bumped another car as well as civil charges of alleged campaign finance violations in his successful 2010 race.
"I don't want to get into details of any conversations I may or may not have had with folks,'' he said.
But those problems -- along with questions raised about where Horne was going with a female employee when FBI agents said they saw him hit that other vehicle -- may have made the incumbent politically vulnerable. And Brnovich said if he does enter the race, one of the issues will be "who has the character ... to be the best attorney general.''
Horne declined to comment about a possible primary battle.
Democrat Felecia Rotellini, who ran against Horne in 2010, is already laying the groundwork for another shot, making Horne's troubles a public issue. In press releases she said the state does not need an attorney general who "is accused of violating laws he is supposed to enforce.''
Three years ago, Horne won with less than 52 percent of the vote despite a GOP voter registration edge. And that was before his current troubles, raising questions of whether he can withstand a rematch.
But Republican political strategist Chuck Coughlin said he's not convinced Horne can be knocked off in a GOP primary -- or that Brnovich, who has never held political office, is the one to do it.
Coughlin acknowledged the negative publicity that has recently surrounded Horne but said that may not matter.
"Incumbency has its power to be able to control the discussion and control the agenda,'' he said.
Coughlin said Horne has gained points with things like the recent victory in federal court ending a 21-year-old challenge to how schools teach English to students who come from homes where that is not the predominant language. And Horne also has taken to personally arguing high-profile cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including one about whether the state can require those who register to vote to first prove citizenship.
"He seems to have found a bit of a stride here recently in being able to identify and handle the media cycle of bad news,'' Coughlin said.
He also said Horne may be able to turn some of what has happened into his favor.
It was two FBI agents, in tailing him as part of an investigation into the practices of public officials, who were the witnesses to Horne parking his own vehicle in a state garage and then getting into another car with a female employee and driving away, with Horne having donned a baseball cap. They also witnessed Horne bumping another vehicle and then driving off.
Horne said whatever occurred caused no real visible damages. And he has refused to plead guilty to the misdemeanor charge of leaving the scene of an accident with an unattended vehicle, at least in part so his attorney can question the agents about why they were following him in the first place.
"That's a good Republican talking point right there,'' Coughlin said of the federal tailing, pointing out that there were never any federal charges brought against Horne. "Tom can play the martyr victim.''
Before heading the agency responsible for overseeing tribal gaming, Brnovich was a state and federal prosecutor.
He also has deep contacts in the conservative wing of the party, in part because of two years he spent at the Goldwater Institute. But some of his positions he took there have been contrary to popular sentiment.
He opposed a statewide ban on smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants, calling it an interference with property rights and the free market. Voters subsequently approved a ballot measure approving such restrictions.
And Brnovich, in his role at Goldwater, also spoke out against the Citizens Clean Elections Act that voters had previously approved.