Republican Debbie Lesko wins Arizona House special election


Tuesday night's special election in Arizona's 8th congressional district determined whether Republicans would keep the seat vacated by former Rep. Trent Franks, the Republican who resigned previous year after he was accused of harassment.

Franks resigned in December, faced with a House Ethics Committee investigation into whether his behavior constituted sexual harassment.

Lesko, a passionate advocate of the border wall proposed by Trump, is slightly favored in the district northwest of Phoenix - although a recent outlier polls put her in a dead heat against Tipirneni, a former emergency room physician. Franks was a Freedom Caucus member and ran unopposed in 2014 and 2016; popular former Republican governor Jan Brewer is also from the district.

The Republican beat the Democrat by nearly six points in a district where Trump won by 20.

Lesko tweeted Tuesday morning thanking House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, for calling to wish her well in the election. Democrats make up less than 25 percent of the electorate in the state, while Republicans make up just more than 40 percent.

Democrats didn't think they would win the race. File photo by REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein.

"This district isn't supposed to be competitive, and so to see this margin, especially with the Republicans pouring in resources here - again, it's a tough year", he said. But even if Tipirneni loses by single digits, Dill said, "Democrats are going to claim victory".

Candidates in other Arizona races are watching this result.

The win wasn't unexpected due to the district being heavily Republican, but Lesko was leading Tipirneni by only six points in early voting tallies - a sharp decrease than the 21 points President Donald Trump won the district by in 2016. Those results are likely to change as in-person Election Day ballots are counted. She has called for protecting Social Security and Medicare benefits, and supports legislation to expand Medicaid in Arizona.

Lesko represented parts of the district since 2009 and has an extremely strong base of support in a district Franks had locked up since 2003. Though it's a conservative district, the median age of its constituents is 67, so there is a higher-than-average interest in maintaining entitlement programs and lowering prescription drug prices. "If that happens, illegal immigrants will pour right over your border, bringing their drugs and their crime with them, right into your neighborhood, right into your back yard".

As of just before noon Tuesday, over 7,600 voters had cast ballots, compared with almost 8,500 voting at polling places during the entire day of the February 27 special primary election to replace Republican Trent Franks. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a PAC that supports Republicans, spent more than $100,000 in get-out-the-vote efforts in the district.

The Democratic National Committee spent $175,000 in the race on online fundraising, digital ads and staff on the ground, including a $75,000 grant to the state party for all its 2018 races, a committee official told CNN hours before polls closed. On the left, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has largely stayed out of the race.