April 26, 2018 — Arizona Republican former state Senate President Debbie Lesko defeated physician Hiral Tipirneni (D) last night, 53-47 percent, to win the vacant 8th District seat that former Rep. Trent Franks (R-Peoria) resigned in January.
Lesko held the seat for Republicans with a high turnout of 173,708 voters, but her six-point win is being cast in the media as an under-performance. Dr. Tipirneni, however, ran a significant campaign and will spend a projected financial number in the $1 million range. Therefore, it’s not particularly surprising that a credible candidate spending significant resources would place in the mid-high 40s despite her opponent’s party being dominant in the region. Lesko will likely spend a bit less than Dr. Tipirneni but received stronger outside support, particularly from the national Republican Party apparatus.
Though Rep. Franks averaged 69.2 percent during his three terms with the district in its present configuration, he did so against candidates who spent virtually no money. In 2014, when he drew 75 percent of the vote, he didn’t have a Democratic opponent. When Franks first won in open configuration back in 2002, his initial win percentage was 59 percent against a candidate who spent only $40,000.
The most recent polls correctly forecast the outcome. Emerson College, the pollster conducting the only two publicly released polls during the period immediately preceding the election (April 19-23; 400 likely AZ-8 special election voters: Lesko 49 percent, Tipirneni 43 percent), correctly predicted a Lesko six-point victory. A week earlier the same pollster (Emerson College; April 12-15; 400 likely special election voters) actually found Dr. Tipirneni forging a small one-point lead.
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.
Is Arizona Republican candidate Debbie Lesko (above) facing defeat by Democrat Hiral Tipirneni?
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.
March 1, 2018 — Voters in the West Valley of Arizona’s Maricopa County went to the polls Tuesday and prior to that, throughout the early voting period, to cast their ballots for special election nominees to replace resigned Rep. Trent Franks (R-Peoria).
Until she resigned her own seat in the state legislature to enter this special congressional election, Debbie Lesko (R-Peoria), was the state Senate President Pro Tempore. She became the favorite late in the voting period, and capitalized on her momentum to score a strong victory in the Republican primary. She recorded 36 percent of the vote while resigned state Rep. Phil Lovas (R-Glendale) and resigned state Sen. Steve Montenegro (R-Surprise) trailed, each posting 24 percent. Former Public Service Commissioner Bob Stump (no relation to the late Republican US Rep. Bob Stump, who served in the House for 26 years), finished a poor fourth, capturing just over five percent of the vote.
Arizona has a “resign to run” law, meaning an elected official must relinquish the office they currently hold if seeking another elected position. This explains all of the office holders running in this special contest having recently resigned their positions.
For the Democrats, physician Hiral Tipirneni scored an easy 60-40 percent victory over auto sales manager and LGBT activist Brianna Westbrook in a contest that never appeared to be in doubt. Though turnout was up substantially in the Democratic column when compared to past similar elections, their participation number still paled in comparison to majority Republicans. The unofficial count shows 36,404 total Democratic votes, while the aggregate GOP vote recorded 71,320 spread among a dozen candidates.