September 7, 2004
Andrew Thomas's appeal with conservative voters gave him the edge to beat out five Republican competitors for Maricopa County Attorney in Tuesday's primary election.
Late Tuesday, Thomas appeared to have eased out Andrew Pacheco, a former prosecutor who had the backing of well-known Republican leaders, including U.S. Sen. John McCain. However, county officials said final vote tallies won't be available for several days due to the large number of early ballots.
Thomas, 37, set himself up early as the most right-leaning of the crowded field of candidates, and relied on the base of support he had built up during his unsuccessful run for state Attorney General in 2002.
“It was obviously a tough and spirited contest," Thomas said Tuesday. "In the end voters looked at the breadth of my experience in the criminal justice system."
Thomas likely will face off Nov. 2 against defense attorney Don Harris, who appeared to soundly defeat former Mesa police officer Jonathan Warshaw in the Democratic primary for the post.
Harris, who put $50,000 of his own money into the campaign, received no support from the Democratic Party. Democratic leaders, including Gov. Janet Napolitano, endorsed Warshaw. "They didn't invite me to the prom but it looks like they sure as (expletive) are going to have to dance with me," Harris said.
Harris also criticized Thomas, saying the Republican's "ideas are out of the 17th century."
Thomas countered by calling Harris the "worst Maricopa County attorney in history." Harris was appointed county attorney in 1976 but served only five months and chose not to run for reelection.
Pacheco declined to comment Tuesday night.
The job of county attorney is one of the most important criminal justice posts in the state, and can also be among the most politically powerful. The current county attorney, Richard Romley, decided against running for a fifth four-year term in order to pursue other political ambitions.
The office handles 40,000 felony criminal cases a year and is also the legal representative for county agencies.
Thomas's hallmark issue has been illegal immigration, bringing him criticism from those who said it was a matter less for the county attorney than the federal government. He also pledged to reduce the number of plea bargains for violent criminals.
Thomas's experience as a prosecutor is minimal compared to the other candidates; he never prosecuted a felony jury trial during his 14 months in the county attorney's office. However, he also been an assistant attorney general from 1994 to 1996, a policy advisor to former Gov. Fife Symington, and a former chief attorney for the state Department of Corrections.
A Harvard graduate and author, Thomas proposed several eyebrow-raising ideas in a 1994 book on crime, such as sentencing drug dealers to public stocks and putting homeless people in mental institutions or jail. In an August interview, Thomas said he has since changed his mind on those ideas and other radical proposals in the book.
Some political observers said Thomas's far right-wing stance will benefit Harris, who could end up drawing votes from moderate Republicans although there is concern about his outspoken attitude.
With so many Republican candidates, there was plenty of unhappiness to go around on Tuesday.
Veteran prosecutor Jerry Landau was backed by Romley who had picked Landau — a 24-year veteran of the office — as his successor. One of Landau's main campaign messages was that Romley's office was doing fine and did not need a major overhaul.
Landau said he was disappointed with the results.
The Republican race grew so bitter last month that Bob Fannin, the chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, called the candidates in for a meeting, reportedly to ask them to support whoever won the primary. The candidates later would not reveal what was discussed at the meeting.