Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

Democratic candidate Dr. Hiral Tipirneni came up a few points short in last night's special election in Arizona's 8th to replace Trent Franks, Republican Debbie Lesko won 52-47.  Nearly three-quarters of votes were early ballots, and they heavily favored Lesko.  On election day however, Tipirneni greatly narrowed the gap.  But there are plenty of reasons for the GOP to be terrified, as this race should have never been close.

The Arizona seat opened up in December, when Republican Representative Trent Franks resigned amid allegations that he offered $5 million to a female employee to be a surrogate mother for him and his wife (she was unclear on how involved he intended to be in the conception process).

The front-runner to replace him is Debbie Lesko, a former Republican state senator. She’s run a typical GOP campaign, voicing her support for President Trump, his tax cuts, and his border wall. Her opponent is Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, a former doctor who has focused largely on health care and Social Security.

That seems like a wise move in a district where 24 percent of residents are 62 or older, but the area’s other characteristics don’t work in Tipirneni’s favor. As FiveThirtyEight notes, registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats by 41 to 24 percent among active voters in the Eighth District, and they haven’t sent a Democrat to Congress since 1980. The district includes a large chunk of the Phoenix suburbs, which comprise Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s base of support, and Trump won the district by 21 points in 2016, while his lead over Hillary Clinton in the state overall was only 3.5 points.

Arizona’s early voting also makes the district much harder for Democrats to flip. The state has a permanent early-voting list, so people are automatically mailed a ballot for the election. Of the 150,000 Arizonans who voted by April 20, 48.6 were Republicans, 27.7 were Democrats, and 23.3 were independents. Unless Tipirneni won over a large number of Republicans and independents, her chances aren’t looking good.

Yet, the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee have together pumped $900,000 into the race, and both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy have held fundraisers for Lesko. Meanwhile, Democratic groups have mostly stayed out of the race.

In other words, Lesko had every possible advantage. This is a gerrymandered R+13 district that Trump carried by 21 after it was redrawn to keep Democrats out (AZ-08 used to be Gabby Gifford's district), a district where Franks won his three previous House races by 28, 51, and 37 points respectively.  For Lesko to win by only 5 and change is a heart-stopper.  Democrats didn't even bother to put up an opponent after losing in 2012, it was Franks smacking around third-party candidates.

Tipirneni should have been crushed by 20 points plus.  She wasn't.

Republicans should be very, very scared, because once again they have lost support in every special election since Trump took office.

And the next special election is OH-12 in August, a much more competitive district than AZ-08 at R+7.

Stay tuned.

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