Special Congressional Election in Arizona Looks Safe for GOP

PHOENIX (CN) — Two women on Tuesday clinched their parties’ nomination for Arizona’s 8th Congressional District to replace Republican Rep. Trent Franks, who resigned last year amid allegations that he’d approached staffers about being a surrogate mother for his child.

Twelve Republican and two Democratic candidates were whittled down to Republican Debbie Lesko and Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, Democrat.

Tipirneni took 59.6 percent of the Democratic votes (21,703) to Brianna Westbrook’s 40.4 percent (14,701).

Lesko garnered 25,508 votes, 35.8 percent of Republican votes cast, to second-place Phil Lovas’ 17,031, or 23.9 percent.

The heavily Republican 8th Congressional District is primarily made up of suburbs north and west of Phoenix, in Maricopa County. It is 74 percent white and 18 percent Latino.

Tipirneni and Lesko will face off in the special election April 24.

Arizona Democratic Party Chairwoman Felecia Rotellini said in an interview that Tipirneni “ran an incredible campaign focused on improving the lives of Arizonans in the 8th Congressional District by offering real solutions for them. This is in direct contrast to the chaos Arizonans have seen on their television screens by the Arizona Republican Party.”

The area has not gone to a Democrat since 1980, though before the 2012 elections it was known as the 2nd District. The lines were redrawn when population growth gave Arizona an eighth seat in Congress.

Tipirneni, an immigrant from India, found a love for science and medicine as a young girl and eventually received her medical degree from Northeast Ohio Medical University.

She is endorsed by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who survived a 2011 assassination attempt in Tucson that left six dead, and who represented the 8th District before it was redrawn.

Tipirneni wants to treat gun violence as a public health issue, supports reproductive rights, and hopes to reform immigration and veteran services.

Tipirneni’s opponent, transgender activist Brianna Westbrook, also is a newcomer to the political scene. She indicated on Twitter that her first dive into politics would not be her last.

“A reminder: 14,000 people voted for us without a dime spent on mailers or robocalls,” Westbrook wrote. “We are far from finished regardless of tonight’s outcome because I’m here to stay in Arizona politics for the long haul.”

On the other side of the aisle, Lesko won the nomination in a primary with 12 candidates and a number of scandals.

Lesko, served as a state representative and senator for two terms, supports President Trump’s border wall and the Second Amendment. She received multiple endorsements, including one from former Governor Jan Brewer.

Lesko, an NRA and Lions Club member, came under fire this month for allegedly transferring $50,000 from her state Senate campaign fund into the race for the 8th District seat. The allegations came from her opponents Steve Montenegro and Phil Lovas.

Arizona Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Lines called Lesko a shoo-in for the April election.

“I am confident that she will win the special election over whichever Nancy Pelosi Democrat emerges from the primary,” Lines said in an interview. “Debbie is an incredibly hard worker, she fights for her constituents, and never ever takes anything or anyone for granted.”

Lovas and Montenegro were within 1,000 votes of each other at publication time, both hovering around 23 percent.

An ABC film crew on Tuesday recorded Lovas speaking with a woman within 75 feet of a polling booth — a violation in Maricopa County.

Montenegro was heavily criticized received last week when it was revealed that he’d sent and received sexually charged text messages from a junior-level staffer.

Both Montenegro and Lovas pledged to support President Trump. Lovas serves the Trump administration as a regional advocate for the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“While the result was not what we had hoped, I am grateful for the support we received from citizens of #AZ08,” Lovas wrote on Twitter.

More than 100,000 of the 457,995 registered voters in the district voted early, by mail.

The final vote count may be unclear for 10 days. Under an agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, absentee ballots mailed will be accepted for an extra 10 days after the primary, because the state failed to give absentee voters enough time to consider the final ballot for the race.

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