To hear the candidates describe it, the Republican race for attorney general is a choice between a con man who is barred for life from securities trading or a liar who used his position as a prosecutor to bring charges against political enemies.
And those were some of the nicer things they said about each other Tuesday night in a debate.
Tom Horne acknowledged that he did file for bankruptcy and signed an admission for the Securities and Exchange Commission saying he wilfully violated their regulations. But he said that was 40 years ago, though he admitted to more recently neglecting to report that bankruptcy on required state reports.
And Andrew Thomas admitted he is under investigation by the State Bar of Arizona for his activities while Maricopa County Attorney. And he could not deny that another Republican county attorney described his actions and that of political ally Sheriff Joe Arpaio as "abuses of power'' and "totalitarianism.''
But Thomas said those are only allegations and he insisted that the charges he has filed against county supervisors and judges will be borne out, despite the fact they all have either been thrown out of court or withdrawn.
The need for each to vilify the other comes because both are portraying themselves as true conservatives, each hoping to snag the GOP nomination and the right to run against whichever of the three Democrats emerge from that party's primary. Thomas cited his experience as a prosecutor; Horne, whose background was in civil litigation before he became state school superintendent eight years ago, said he's actually taken cases to trial.
Yet after 25 minutes of charges during the debate televised on KAET-TV that would in other circumstances border on slander, each vowed to support whoever wins the August race.
"I'm a loyal Republican,'' said Thomas.
"When you run in a primary and seek the nomination of your party, there's a covenant there that, as part of that process you have to support whoever wins,'' echoed Horne.
But the vitriol of Tuesday's debate is bound to cheer the eventual Democratic nominee, as both Republicans provided plenty of fodder for a political opponent.
"It's important that we have an attorney general who has character and integrity,'' Thomas said, citing the permanent bar the SEC placed on Horne. "He still is not coming clean about that.''
Horne, in turn, said Thomas was bringing up the 40-year-old incident to deflect from current investigations by the FBI and State Bar.
"A court found that he had prosecuted people for personal political purposes and for personal political retribution,'' Horne said. He said that includes charges of bribery and extortion against sitting judges who ruled against him and his office in various cases.
"He had to drop all four cases because he had no evidence,'' Horne continued. And he said 11 separate cases against politicians were dropped "again, because he had no evidence.''
"And he may be in the process of getting disbarred.''
Thomas attacked Horne on the issue of illegal immigration, saying at one time his foe endorsed a plan that would allow children who are not in this country legally to become citizens after graduation if they pass a test.
Horne said later he was only commenting on details of federal "Dream Act'' legislation which would allow high school graduates to gain a path to citizenship, not suggesting it himself. Thomas said Horne's denial should not be believed.
"You have to understand this is a guy who is a confessed con artist,'' Thomas said, referring to that SEC investigation which alleged the firm Horne started submitted false balance sheets and misrepresented its assets.
Horne, without admitting guilt, eventually agreed that he and his company "wilfully aided and abetted'' in violating securities laws. On Tuesday he attributed the problem to "bad bookkeeping.''
By contrast, Horne said, Thomas' problems are of more recent vintage -- and relate to his job as county attorney and the charges he brought against judges.
"You don't prosecute judges who rule against you,'' Horne said. "You appeal their decision.''
"We have been improperly prevented from doing our job,'' Thomas responded, saying there is evidence of bribery and other crimes, not only by judges but Maricopa County Supervisors Don Stapley and Mary Rose Wilcox.
But Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, whom Thomas asked to look into the issue, eventually removed herself from the case -- and issued a public rebuke to Thomas and the sheriff in the form of a guest column in The Arizona Republic.
"I can no longer sit by quietly and watch from a distance the abuses of power by Sheriff Arpaio and County Attorney Andrew Thomas,'' she wrote. "I am a conservative and passionately believe in limited government, not the totalitarianism that is spreading before my eyes.''