PHOENIX -- Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer turned her back on embattled Attorney General Tom Horne on Thursday and instead endorsed his opponent in August's Republican primary.
Brewer's endorsement of former state Gaming Department Director Mark Brnovich is a major blow for Horne. It comes as he faces two investigations into allegations that he illegally used his staff to run his re-election campaign.
The attorney for the former Horne staffer who alleges Horne was using his state-paid staff for campaign work said Thursday that she has been interviewed by Maricopa County investigators in an apparent third investigation and has been interviewed by the FBI. Neither agency would confirm an investigation.
Brewer's endorsement statement didn't mention Horne by name. Instead she said she wants an attorney general "who will fill the office with integrity and compassion." While endorsements don't always mean a lot, Brewer's carries great weight in Arizona because of her status as the popular top Republican in the state. And abandoning a fellow Republican incumbent is seen are particularly damaging.
"It has been my experience that doing the right thing often means doing the hard thing," Brewer said in a statement released by Brnovich's campaign. "That's why I look for candidates with the courage of conviction to stand for Arizona and who are willing to stand up against the Obama Administration."
Brewer was in Nashville, Tenn., for a National Governors Association meeting and unavailable. Her spokesman, Andrew Wilder, confirmed the endorsement.
The endorsement comes a day after Arizona's secretary of state said that there is reasonable cause to believe Horne violated state election laws by using his staff to work on his re-election campaign and a full investigation is merited. The determination was sent to Horne's solicitor general, who late Wednesday appointed a retired appeals court judge and Gilbert's town attorney to investigate and potentially bring civil enforcement action.
The Citizens Clean Elections Commission authorized a separate investigation into the same issue on June 18. The commission could order Horne removed from office.
Potentially more dangerous for Horne is the investigation that whistleblower Sarah Beattie's attorney says has been launched by the Maricopa County Attorney. Attorney Tom Ryan said he doesn't know if it is civil or criminal, and either is possible.
"If it was criminal, there are a series of misdemeanors involved," Ryan said. "But one of the things we allege is destruction of evidence, so it is quite possible they could find evidence of obstruction of justice, which is much more than a simple misdemeanor."
The existence of a possible investigation was first reported by The Arizona Republic.
County Attorney spokesman Jerry Cobb said the office does not confirm or deny the existence of investigations. The FBI said it could not confirm or deny an interview of Beattie.
Ryan said Beattie has met twice in recent weeks with detectives and prosecutors with the county attorney's office and is providing them documents he says prove that Horne was directing staff to do campaign work while they were in the office. Horne has denied any wrongdoing, though he has said there may have been some ``political water cooler talk'' during office hours. He has also attacked Beattie's credibility.
Horne said he's not surprised by Brewer's endorsement of Brnovich because she appointed him as her gaming director. He also said he doesn't believe it will change the complexion of the race.
"People will make up their own minds. They're not going to let her decide their vote," Horne said.
Brnovich called Brewer's nod "a major game-changer."
"This is a huge signal to the party that Tom is gone and that I am the front-runner and it's time for folks to get behind my candidacy," he said. "Because we need to make sure we do everything we can to hold onto that seat."
Whoever wins the Republican primary will face Democrat Felecia Rotellini in November in a rematch of the 2010 attorney general election matchup. Horne edged Rotellini by about 4 percent of the votes cast.
Horne is suing to block the clean elections investigation, saying the commission doesn't have the authority to enforce election laws for candidates not participating in Arizona's public campaign financing system.
He already is appealing a finding by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk that he and a top aide illegally coordinated spending by an outside group supporting his 2010 election bid.
Despite allegations that have dogged Horne since the 2010 election issue arose more than two years ago, Brnovich is far behind in fundraising. From Jan. 1-May. 30, Brnovich brought in about $76,000, bringing his total contributions since he announced his bid last year to nearly $128,000. After expenses, he had less than $90,000 in the bank.
Horne brought in more than $100,000 in the same period, bringing his cash on hand to nearly $400,000 to ward off the primary challenge.