Republicans Taking Nothing For Granted In Arizona’s 8th Congressional District Race

By Bret Jaspers
Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2018 - 10:10am
Updated: Sunday, April 22, 2018 - 10:43pm

Debbie Lesko and Hiral Tipirneni
(Photo by Bret Jaspers - KJZZ)
Former state Sen. Debbie Lesko (left) and physician Hiral Tipirneni.

Last weekend, Democrat Hiral Tipirneni had a reminder for the dozens of volunteers gathered at Wigwam Creek Middle School in Litchfield Park, Arizona.

“After what we learned in Pennsylvania, every vote counts. We know this. Every vote,” she told the crowd. “Nobody can afford to sit it out.”

Voters in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, northwest of Phoenix, are choosing a replacement for Trent Franks. The Congressman resigned abruptly last year. His former district is considered as red as the sun is bright.

But while Republicans are taking nothing for granted, Tipirneni sees a path to victory.

“Talk about the issues,” she said. “We’re not talking about the ideology. It’s not a D versus R thing. It’s a, ‘Hey, I have a health care plan that’s gonna get us to a place where every American has a quality, affordable health care. My opponent does not.’”

Tipirneni, a physician, had planned on challenging Franks in this fall’s midterms. After he resigned amid sexual harassment allegations in December, a slew of Republicans ran to replace him in a special primary election. A well-known state lawmaker won: Debbie Lesko.

Hiral Tipirneni
(Photo by Bret Jaspers - KJZZ)
Hiral Tipirneni, a Democrat running to replace Trent Franks, is the underdog in the race.

“This is a special election,” Lesko said of the national attention the race is getting. “This is the only one going on in the entire country and we Republicans need to prove to the Democrats that they do not have a chance of winning in this solid Republican district.”

How solid? The last time this suburban area sent a Democrat to Congress was 1980. That guy, Bob Stump, then switched parties. Early voting numbers show the number of registered Republicans who have sent in their ballots outnumber registered Democrats by over 28,000.

Sitting on her golf cart in a strip mall parking lot, Republican Peggy Harmon says she already voted for Lesko. “Because she’s Republican. We don’t need no more Democrats. So I’ll vote for all Republicans now,” she said.

And yet national GOP groups are spending significantly on the race. The Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee have together put in over $700,000 for things like TV ads and door-to-door canvassers. U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan is headlining a fundraiser for Lesko on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Alex Conant, a Republican strategist with Firehouse Strategies, argued the money is an insurance policy.

“I think the costs for Republicans, if they were to somehow neglect the race and somehow lose, it would be a big problem,” he said. “So I think that’s part of why you’re seeing the party make this modest investment.”

Debbie Lesko
(Photo by Bret Jaspers - KJZZ)
Debbie Lesko is a well-known figure in the West Valley, where she represented Legislative District 21 in the state Legislature.

Democratic groups, meanwhile, have spent very little here, although Tipirneni’s campaign has raised more than Lesko’s. To win, they’ll need voters like John Eckardt. He usually votes Republican but is nervous that the GOP might make changes to Medicare and Social Security.

“This fooling with Medicare and Social Security is a bad thing,” he said. “Because people have worked for it and paid into it for all the years that they worked. They should get it.”

Lesko said she’d never vote to cut those programs for current retirees, but has supported the idea of changes for future beneficiaries.

And there’s another wild card making Arrowhead Republican Women board member Lezlee Alexander nervous. “You never know what’s coming out of D.C. and how it’s gonna affect everybody.”

Asked if she was referring to something President Donald Trump might do or say, she said, “Yeah, exactly.”

Tuesday’s result could end Republicans’ jitters — for now. Whichever candidate wins, of course, will have to run again in the fall.

If you like this story, Donate Now!