May 1, 2018 — Just when we thought the number of special elections was lessening when Debbie Lesko won the AZ-8 election last week to replace resigned Arizona Rep. Trent Franks (R-Peoria), new vacancies are popping up.
Pennsylvania Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Chadds Ford), abruptly resigned Friday.
On Friday, Pennsylvania Rep. Pat Meehan (R-Chadds Ford), who had previously announced his retirement for term’s end, abruptly resigned when learning the House Ethics Committee was going to launch an investigation into the severance payment awarded to one of his staff employees. The source of this particular recompense was the special taxpayer funded congressional account found to cover members’ special staff settlements.
Meehan also pledged to repay the $39,000 payment that is the investigation’s basis within the next 30 days. Now that Meehan has exited the House, the Ethics Committee no longer has jurisdiction. He joins former Texas Congressman Blake Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi) who resigned in early April also to avoid a congressional investigation.
Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-Tulsa) resigned his seat in late April to accept his position in the Trump Administration as the new NASA Administrator. Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Allentown) says he will resign his seat at an unspecified date in early May, presumably because he will be accepting a position in the private sector. As we know, the late New York Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-Rochester) passed away on March 16.
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.
Dec. 11, 2017 — Continuing the spate of recent congressional resignations for sexual impropriety, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), as news reports predicted, announced late last week that he will resign his seat in several weeks.
The action means Gov. Mark Dayton (D) will now appoint a successor. Speculation suggests that he will name Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (D), his former chief of staff, to the federal position and it is believed that she will serve as a caretaker. If all of this proves true, we will have another open Senate race in 2018. In any event, voters will choose the individual to serve the remainder of Franken’s term in the upcoming regular vote. This particular Class II seat will again come before voters for a full six-year term in 2020.
Some in the news media believed that Gov. Dayton would have made his appointment announcement by the end of last week, but the Minnesota chief executive did not do so, saying he would make a decision in the next few days. This could be because Franken did not resign immediately, or he has not fully committed to naming Lt. Gov. Smith.
Oct. 30, 2017 — Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R) announcement Wednesday that he will not run for re-election has ignited a flurry of political activity in Arizona about who now might enter the newly open 2018 Senate race. Decisions are already being made, with many quickly saying they won’t run for the seat.
A great deal of attention surrounds 2nd District US Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson) for obvious reasons, because she is likely the best Republican candidate on paper, but the congresswoman has yet to make a public statement about running for the Senate. Published reports, however, quote sources close to her as saying she is being “inundated” with supporters urging that she run.
Winning her first congressional election in 2014, a 161-vote victory over then-Rep. Ron Barber (D-Tucson) that proved to be the closest congressional result in the country that year, and then racking up 57 percent support over former state Rep. Matt Heinz (D) last year even though Hillary Clinton was scoring a five-percentage point win in her southeastern Arizona congressional district makes Rep. McSally a proven political commodity. As a freshman House member, she raised an eye-popping $7.7 million for her first re-election effort. This year, ranking high on Democratic target lists and drawing eight announced opponents including former US Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Flagstaff) who moved to Tucson right after losing to Sen. John McCain (R) in the 2016 election, Rep. McSally already has accumulated over $1.45 million for her next campaign.
Oct. 26, 2017 — Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R) surprised most in the political world during a speech a couple days ago from the Senate floor, and thereby to the nation, that he will not seek re-election for a second term.
Former Arizona state senator and GOP Senate challenger Kelli Ward
With the text of his retirement address devoted mostly to his long-enduring battle with President Trump, Sen. Flake admits to having “regrets” about leaving elected politics and over the nation’s current state of affairs. But, the more salient reason hastening his departure is likely the polling data that shows his standing among Republicans is worse than the Arizona electorate as a whole, and that he would likely lose to both GOP challenger Kelli Ward, a former state senator who held Sen. John McCain to a 51-40 percent victory in the 2016 Republican primary, and US Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) in the general election.
Contrary to media and Democratic Party analyses, the Republicans’ chances of holding this Senate seat actually improve with Sen. Flake’s departure. It was clear that his presidential sparring with Trump had left him worse for wear, and the GOP will likely be able to nominate a less encumbered, and thereby stronger, general election candidate.