Republican Debbie Lesko has won the Arizona special election to replace Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), defeating her Democratic rival Hiral Tipirneni, according to the Associated Press. (The New York Times and the Washington Post similarly called the race for Lesko late Tuesday night.)
BREAKING: Republican Debbie Lesko wins special U.S. House election in Arizona, keeping seat in GOP control.
— The Associated Press (@AP) April 25, 2018
The race, in Arizona’s eighth district, was seen by some as a potential bellwether of an impending “blue wave” in November’s midterm elections, but in this case, the GOP will retain control of the Congressional seat.
Franks resigned last winter after a House Ethics Committee investigation revealed that he had asked two of his female staffers to be a surrogate mother for his child. Subsequent reporting uncovered that Franks had offered “upwards of $5 million dollars to act as his surrogate.” Another aide claimed that the Franks had even suggested impregnating her via intercourse — a charge that Franks has denied.
The campaign to replace the former congressman was hotly contested, despite the fact that President Donald Trump won Arizona’s eighth district by more than 20 points in 2016. Two polls in the final days before the special election (one an internal poll released by Tipirneni’s campaign) had Tipirneni within one point or tied with Lesko.
National Republicans poured money into the race, hesitant to take any chances following a string of upset losses in recent months, such as Democrat Conor Lamb’s less-than-one-point victory in Pennsylvania’s special election, as well as last December’s Alabama Senate race, in which Democrat Doug Jones prevailed over former judge Roy Moore.
This time, it was enough.
Tipirneni did make a strong showing, however, especially compared to the last Democrat to vie for the seat: Gene Scharer, who was defeated by Franks in 2012 by a 63-35% margin. (No Democrats mounted a campaign against Franks in the preceding two election cycles; in 2014 Franks defeated Americans Elect candidate Stephen Dolgos and in 2016 he beat Green Party nominee Mark Salazar.)
Tipirneni, by contrast, kept the race relatively close — and as the Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman pointed out shortly after the results started coming in, the margins were slim enough to be worrisome for the GOP.
Early votes in #AZ08 (likely 3/4 of all ballots):
Debbie Lesko (R) 82,294 (53%)
Hiral Tipirneni (D) 73,188 (47%)
Lesko's got this, but a 6% margin in an R+13 seat is *terrible* for GOP.
— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) April 25, 2018
Wasserman’s observations were affirmed by the New York Times’ Nate Cohn:
There just aren't any excuses. The Republican wasn't Roy Moore. The Democrat wasn't Conor Lamb. The turnout wasn't low. The district doesn't have, say, a latent Democratic tradition. It oddly has the effect of making all the prior excuses seem less relevant, too.
— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) April 25, 2018
In the days leading up to the election, members of the state’s Democratic party told ThinkProgress that they considered her campaign as both a success as well a good sign for the upcoming midterms, regardless of the outcome.
Their enthusiasm remained palpable after the polls closed on Tuesday night. As one Arizona Democratic Party consultant told ThinkProgress even after the race had been called for Lesko, “This is the perfect scenario for Arizona Democrats.”
Tipirneni, a former emergency room doctor turned cancer research advocate, worked to make the race about health care, while vowing to protect social security and Medicaid. She supports a adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act and told ThinkProgress she supports a number of gun reforms, including expanding background checks and banning bump stocks and assault-style weapons. She was endorsed by former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ).
Lesko, who represented the district for a number of years in the state legislature, made building the wall and increasing border security central to her campaign. In March, Lesko briefly made news after calling for the allegations of sexual misconduct lodged by more than a dozen women against Trump to be investigated, only to walk it back in an interview a few days later.
“I didn’t mean a formal investigation by government or something like that,” she said in an interview with The New York Times last month. “I just meant it needs to run its course.”
UPDATE, 4/25/18 12:20pm: The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel reports that Tipirneni has conceded the election after initially declining to do so Tuesday night. She has further announced her intention to press on with her campaign to November’s midterms.
This breaking news story has been updated.