PHOENIX — Democrat Kris Mayes had the narrowest of leads late Wednesday over Republican Abe Hamadeh in the race for attorney general.
Statewide figures gave the former member of the Arizona Corporation Commission a 4,200-vote edge. That is within the 0.5 percent margin that would trigger an automatic recount if the margin holds — and far less than the 11-point lead she had after the polls closed Tuesday night.
Whether she can hold the lead is unclear. In fact, at one point Wednesday Hamadeh, a former Maricopa County deputy county attorney had a 3,700-vote edge.
And the numbers at the time showed there were still more than 560,000 votes to be counted.
Much of the race to fill the soon-to-be-vacant post centered around the question of whether trial experience matters when it comes to running the state's largest law firm.
Strictly speaking the post does not require courtroom experience. It does, however, require the attorney general be someone licensed to practice law given the decisions made by the agency as well as its ability to issue legal opinions.
And incumbent Mark Brnovich, who could not seek another four-year term, prosecuted gang cases while at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office and went after gambling crimes while a federal prosecutor. Brnovich, who has not endorsed either candidate, said such experience can be helpful when deciding which cases to pursue and which to turn down.
Mayes, a one-time newspaper reporter, does not dispute she has never tried a case. But she contends her experience as a member of the Arizona Corporation Commission is similar, saying she worked directly with the attorney general to prosecute those engaged in security scams and get money returned to investors.
Hamadeh, a Trump-endorsed political newcomer, said he has tried both misdemeanor and felony cases in his time at the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. But he only became a lawyer in 2017; Mayes has been an attorney since 2005.
Then there's the management side of being attorney general.
Hamadeh cited his time as an intelligence officer for the Army Reserves, serving in the Middle East where he assisted in overseeing a $120 million programs budget as well as managing civilian contractors and U.S. soldiers.
Mayes said said her more than seven years on the commission meant managing a staff of 400, including attorneys, engineers, support staff and law enforcement. She also chaired the panel for two years after being chosen by both Republicans and Democrats.
And Mayes herself has a bipartisan past.
She was a Republican, serving as press aide to Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano. That affiliation paved the way for the governor, required to name someone from the GOP to replace Republican Jim Irvin who had resigned, tapped Mayes.
She parted ways with the party in 2019.
Both Mayes and Hamadeh have promised to run the office and make decisions regardless of political implications. And both have said they will uphold the death penalty as long as it is the law of the land.
Mayes, however, publicly announced she would never prosecute doctors or any medical professionals for violating a territorial-era law which makes all forms of abortion a crime unless to save the life of the mother.
That law never was repealed after the Supreme Court earlier this year overturned Roe v. Wade and its conclusion that women have a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy prior to fetal viability. That returned the decision on abortions to each state.
Brnovich got a trial judge to conclude that automatically reactivated the old law. But that ruling has been held in abeyance while the state Court of Appeals decides whether it was replaced by legislation earlier this year imposing a ban after 15 weeks.
Mayes contends that both the territorial-era law and the 15-week ban run afoul of a provision in the Arizona Constitution that guarantees a right to privacy, saying she would not defend either law and would actively challenge them.
Neither the 1864 version of the law nor the one approved in 2022 subjects women who have had an abortion to any criminal liability.
Hamadeh, like others running on the state GOP ticket, has claimed that the 2020 election which saw Arizona's 11 electoral votes go to Joe Biden was rigged despite no evidence to back that up.
At a Trump rally, he said he intends to "lock up some people and put handcuffs on them.'' And Hamadeh said said he sees part of the job of attorney general to prosecute election fraud and "regain the confidence in our elections.''
Mayes, however, said increasing threats against election workers can be directly linked to people who spread false claims about the 2020 election.
Separately, Mayes has promised if elected to scrutinize state land leases in western Arizona to a Saudi Arabian company which is pumping water from the ground to grow alfalfa that, in turn, is shipped to feed cattle in the Middle East.
Hamadeh offered up a statement saying the government "should not be subsidizing private industry, especially when it involves private or foreign entities freely accessing and capitalizing off our natural resources.''
Whether any laws have been broken remains unclear. Groundwater pumping in rural areas is largely unregulated, with those who own or, in this case, lease property from the state — pretty much able to pump as much as they can use. And neither has said they would invalidate the contracts.
Some old issues for both candidates have arisen during the campaign.
Mayes questioned Hamadeh's hardline stance on illegal immigration, pointing out that his father, born in Syria, had overstayed his United States visa for seven years and was subject to a deportation order in 1996. He got to stay when a federal judge accepted his plea for relief based on having two children born in this country, including Abe, while he was here.
Hamadeh went after Mayes for what he said was insider trading of stock of Central Newspapers Inc., which was the parent company of The Arizona Republic where she had worked, before it was publicly announced in 2000 the company would be acquired by Gannett. That sharply increased the price of the stock that she had purchased.
Mayes acknowledged making about $5,000 from the trades but said that, as a reporter, she had no inside information and that rumors of a sale had been circulating for weeks. The Republic later announced that an investigation showed that 10 newsroom staffers, including four supervisors, had purchased CNI stock through their company 401(k) retirement accounts.