PHOENIX — Tom Horne is crowing that he's leading a GOP primary challenger and his likely Democratic foe — or at least he was.
Horne's campaign sent out a press release Friday touting numbers from a poll done on behalf of the Arizona Republican Party. It showed him with a 43-39 percent lead over likely Democratic foe Felicia Rotellini. That's slightly higher than the 3.7 percent margin of error that Magellan Strategies said it telephone survey of 689 likely voters.
But that poll was conducted Oct. 14 and 15. That was just days before Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk released a 26-page report concluding Horne “intentionally and blatantly broke the barrier” that was supposed to exist between his campaign and an independent committee.
Polk ordered Horne and Kathleen Winn, who was running that committee, to refund close to $400,000 of contributions above what Horne could have taken himself.
Horne and Winn are disputing the allegations. But Horne said that, no matter the outcome of the challenge, he does not think the poll results would have been any different even if respondents been questioned after Polk's report became public.
In fact, Horne released a separate survey on Friday done for his own campaign, this one showing him with a 3-1 lead among Republicans over Mark Brnovich who is challenging Horne in the GOP primary. Horne said the fact this survey was actually done five months ago also changes nothing.
“There was nothing new there,” he said of Polk's report. “It was basically the same thing that (Maricopa County Attorney Bill) Montgomery had come out with.”
Montgomery's own findings were made public more than a year ago. Horne and Winn got a judge to take the case away from him and instead require Secretary of State Ken Bennett to refer it to the Attorney General's Office. An aide to Horne then sent the file to Polk.
Anyway, Horne said what Polk is alleging is not the kind of thing that affects the outcome of races.
“I don't think technical campaign violations move a lot of voters,” he said.
He said no one blinked when the Federal Elections Commission earlier this year fined John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign committee $80,000 for accepting $377,657 in campaign contributions that exceeded federal limits. Nor does he expect that to be an issue if and when the senator runs for reelection in 2016.
Horne also said he doubts that many people read Polk's entire 26-page report. And he said if a hearing officer who will review Polk's report rules in his favor, “I will have been vindicated.”
In general, polling 10 months before the primary — and more than a year ahead of the general election — is little more than a snapshot of what voters are thinking at that moment.
But politicians release poll results in part to show that they have a chance of winning, and that becomes important in raising the funds needed for the campaign.
Horne, Brnovich and Rotellini all are running with private donations.
Even if Horne's contention that campaign finance law violations don't matter politically, that is not the only issue foes are likely to raise.
Horne was charged with a “bump and run” violation by Phoenix police after the FBI, which had been tailing him, said he hit another vehicle in a parking garage. He eventually pleaded no contest.
Horne said that should not matter in his reelection bid.
“That turned out to be a $300 fine and no admission of guilt,” Horne said.
But there was something else in the FBI report: In his statement, one of the agents claimed Horne did not leave a note on the other vehicle because he was trying to conceal an extramarital affair.
Horne called that “completely baseless,” and there have been no similar allegations since.
But the claim may have an effect.
In the survey conducted by the state Republican Party, Horne had a decent lead over Rotellini among men but trailed her slightly among women.
That poll also showed Horne leading among voters age 45 through 54 and those 65 and older, with Rotellini having a jump on him among other age groups.