Republican Debbie Lesko Wins U.S. House Race Arizona's 8th Congressional District

By Associated Press, Bret Jaspers
Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2018 - 8:29pm
Updated: Wednesday, April 25, 2018 - 12:03pm

Audio icon Download mp3 (1.9 MB)

Bret Jaspers/KJZZ
Debbie Lesko speaks at her victory party in Peoria, Arizona, on April 24, 2018.

Republican Debbie Lesko has won the special election in Arizona's 8th Congressional District, keeping the U.S. House seat in GOP control.

The former state senator on Tuesday defeated Hiral Tipirneni, a former emergency room physician. Tipernini had hoped to replicate surprising Democratic wins in Pennsylvania, Alabama and other states in a year where opposition to President Donald Trump's policies have boosted the party's chances in Republican strongholds.

Lesko replaces former Rep. Trent Franks, a Republican who resigned in December amid sexual misconduct allegations.

RESULTS: Maricopa County Recorder's Office

The district sprawls across western Phoenix suburbs, covering some of the most conservative areas of the red state, including the retirement community of Sun City.

National Republican groups spent big to back Lesko, pouring in more than $500,000 in the suburban Phoenix district for television and mail ads and phone calls to voters. National Democratic groups hadn't committed money to the race, a sign they didn't believe the seat was in play. Still, the influential Cook Political Report moved the race from solid Republican to likely Republican the week before the election.

In the Feb. 27 primary, two out of every three ballots were cast for a Republican.

The seat became open when Franks stepped down after acknowledging that he had discussed surrogacy with two female staffers. A former aide told The Associated Press that he pressed her to carry his child as a surrogate and offered her $5 million.

Tipirneni was seen as a fresh Democratic face with relatively moderate views that could get support in the district. Making a push for older voters, she had said Lesko would vote to go after entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicaid to pay for tax cuts that mainly benefit the wealthy. She's pushed a plan to allow some people to buy into Medicare.

Lesko slammed Tipirneni as being out of touch with voters who oppose government-run health care. She called the Democrat too liberal for the area, and pointed to Tipirneni's opposition to a wall on the Mexican border.

Bret Jaspers/KJZZ
Hiral Tipirneni speaks to a crowd at Arrowhead Country Club in Glendale, Arizona, on April 24, 2018.

Several Republican voters who spoke with AP said they backed Lesko primarily because she supported President Donald Trump's border security plans.

David Hunt, a 64-year-old retired construction and warehouse worker from Glendale, said he cast his vote Tuesday for Lesko because he believed that immigrants in the country illegally are creating unfair competition for jobs for recent high school students in Arizona.

"She's the best candidate to deal with the porous border," Hunt said.

His views were echoed by Larry Bettis, a retiree from Glendale.

"Immigration - the fence," Bettis said. "That's all I really care about."

Democrats said they wanted to send a message to Trump and supported Democratic health care plans.

"I don't like the president and felt it was time to take a stand," said Nikole Allen, a 45-year-old medical assistant from New York now living in Glendale. "It's time for us to vote the Republicans out."

Lance Ostrander, a registered Democrat who works for Maricopa County and lives in Peoria, said he'd be happy if Tipirneni wins.

"We'd really like a change," he said. "Trump had a lot of good ideas at first but a lot of people feel like they were hoodwinked.

Update Wednesday 12pm:

Tipirneni officially conceded Wednesday. The night before, she made it clear that win or lose, she would run again in the fall. 

"I want everyone to take a little time off. Not too much time, but a little time," she told her supporters. "And then after you’ve rested and after we’ve celebrated, it’s time to get back to work for CD8."

The deadline for submitting signatures for federal office in Arizona is May 30th. Candidates need one-half of one percent of the voters registered in their party in that district.

A statement from Lesko said she has already filed to run in the August Republican primary for the district.

If you like this story, Donate Now!