By Jim EllisApril 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.