Republican wins special House race in Arizona GOP stronghold

Republican Debbie Lesko won the special election in Arizona's 8th Congressional District Tuesday, keeping the U.S. House seat in GOP control but by a much narrower margin than expected. Trent Franks resigned in December amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

The Associated Press called the race with Lesko leading Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, 53 percent to 47 percent in early ballots, which accounted for an estimated 75 percent of the total votes cast, according to the Arizona secretary of state's office. Those results are likely to change as in-person Election Day ballots are counted. Lesko is accused of violating Federal Election Commission rules by steering money to an outside group boosting her race, and Tipireni faces accusations that she stopped practicing medicine over a malpractice lawsuit. According to The Washington Post, Republican Debbie Lesko is the favorite to replace [Franks] because of her party's 17-percentage-point registration advantage in the district. It can matter as well in special elections viewed as harbingers of regular elections to come.

National Democrats, however, stayed away from the race, deducing that a district that has sent only Republicans to Congress for four decades was out of reach.

But Dennis Allen, an 84-year-old who worked in the natural gas industry in Chicago before retiring in Sun City, told the AP he voted for Lesko, but that the "only politician who has been worth anything for me, really, in 60 years of voting is Donald Trump". "It's very surreal", Lesko said after her victory in video that was streamed on Facebook Live by 12 News. "Twenty-five years ago I left an abusive husband and I sure as heck never would have dreamt in a million years that I would be running for Congress to be a congresswoman".

"Something's happening here", Tipirneni told supporters Tuesday night.

"Something is happening here".

Compared with the race earlier this year that saw Democrat Conor Lamb's unlikely win in suburban Pittsburgh, spending in the Arizona district was relatively minimal and Trump kept his distance. She served as the Senate president pro tempore until she resigned from the chamber in January to focus on her congressional bid. "The NRCC was proud to support her and our targeted and early investments proved to be a difference maker in the race".

Republicans in Arizona were confident the district would not flip but the national party leaders and groups had no intention of leaving anything to chance after last month's shock Democratic victory in south-western Pennsylvania.

Even with the numbers against her, Republicans spent heavy and hard in this contest to secure the win. Polls showed the race anywhere from a statistical dead heat to Lesko ahead by 10 points.

The former state senator on Tuesday defeated Hiral Tipirneni, a former emergency room physician. "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".

Lesko sought to paint Tipirneni as too liberal for the district, pointing to the Democrats' support for a public health care option and opposition to the GOP's tax overhaul. She's pushed a plan to allow some people to buy into Medicare.

  • Gwendolyn Kim