By Jim Ellis
March 30, 2018 — The Hill newspaper released an article entitled, “GOP Seeks to Avoid Dem Upset in Arizona” Wednesday, but there is little empirical evidence to suggest that any such result is in the offing.The Hill correspondents Ben Kamisar and Lisa Hagen report that the national Republican political apparatus in the form of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Republican National Committee, and the Congressional Leadership Fund (the latter organization loosely affiliated with Speaker Paul Ryan), are investing a combined $570,000 to protect what should be a safe seat. The spending reference somehow provides substantiation that Democrat Hiral Tipirneni is potentially positioning herself to defeat former state Senate President Pro Tempore Debbie Lesko in the April 24 special election to replace resigned Rep. Trent Franks (R-Peoria).
Fresh from a stinging loss in the western Pennsylvania special election, Republican House members and rank and file supporters would rebel if the political committees were not taking this impending race seriously. Therefore, the ingestion of what is a modest amount of money when compared to previous special election spending has much more to do with covering internal political bases than any reference suggesting trouble for Lesko.
Moreover, even in their own copy, the authors quote numbers from Democratic pollster Lake Research for the Tiperneni campaign that find Lesko’s lead registering 14 percentage points. The Republican campaign confirms, according to the article, that their internal polls also show a double-digit lead. The survey spread is then contrasted with President Trump’s 21-point victory from this district to suggest that Lesko is under-performing.
Comparing a poll result to actual voting history is flawed analysis. The polling numbers obviously contain respondents who report to be undecided or refuse to say how they are voting. No extrapolation for either candidate from these groups is made. In actual voting, there are no “undecided” and “refused to respond” options; hence, such an addition to both candidate columns would most likely increase Lesko’s margin at least to a small degree.
Additionally, Republicans have under-polled in the three of the last four special elections. In GOP victories in Georgia (Rep. Karen Handel defeating Jon Ossoff) and Montana (Rep. Greg Gianforte topping Rob Quist), the final result saw the winning Republican exceed their predicted vote total by several points, apiece.
Even in the recent Pennsylvania special election, victorious Democrat Conor Lamb was projected to win by between two and six points in late polling, but the final result showed a 627-vote margin, a spread of less than one-half percent. Only in the South Carolina special election victory of Rep. Ralph Norman (R-Rock Hill) did the polling correctly predict a close GOP victory.
Arizona’s 8th Congressional District is a solidly Republican seat. In addition to President Trump’s strong win, Mitt Romney’s margin over President Obama was 62-37 percent, and John McCain scored a 61-38 percent win here in the 2008 presidential campaign. Furthermore, Rep. Franks, in his three elections since the district was created in its present configuration as part of the 2011 redistricting plan, averaged 69.2 percent of the vote. Therefore, the Republican purity of this self-contained Maricopa County district cannot be questioned. Thus, a loss here would be nationally significant.
Pre-primary finance numbers, the latest published Federal Election Commission data dated Feb. 7, tell us little about the current campaign resource status. New numbers will be publicized within two weeks after the March 31 disclosure deadline, and that will provide us a better look as to whether or not Tipirneni is building a campaign that could actually score the unlikeliest of political victories.