GOP unsettled by narrow win in U.S. House race in Arizona
It took a big money push from the Republican Party, tweets by the president and the support of the state’s current and former governors, but the GOP held on to an Arizona U.S. House seat they would have never considered endangered in any other year.
Tuesday’s narrow victory by Republican Debbie Lesko over a Democratic political newcomer sends a big message to Republicans nationwide: Even the reddest of districts in a red state can be in play this year. Early returns show Lesko winning by about 5 percentage points in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, where President Trump won by 21 points.
The former state senator defeated Hiral Tipirneni, a former emergency room physician who had hoped to replicate surprising Democratic wins in Pennsylvania, Alabama and other states in a year when opposition to Trump’s policies have boosted the party’s chances in Republican strongholds.
Republican political consultant Chuck Coughlin called Tuesday’s special election margin “not good” for national Republicans looking at their chances in November.
“They should clean house in this election,” said Coughlin, longtime advisor to former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. “There’s a drag on the midterms for Republican candidates that’s being created by the national narrative. And it would be very hard to buck that trend if you’re in swing districts, much less close districts, if you can’t change that narrative between now and November.”
Lesko replaces former Rep. Trent Franks, a Republican who resigned in December amid sexual misconduct allegations.
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.
At a victory party in her Glendale neighborhood, Lesko greeted supporters and looked back in wonder.
“I’ve really come a long way and this is really quite overwhelming, it’s very surreal,” she said. “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.”
Brewer, who backed Lesko and was at her victory party, also warned that Republicans need to make changes if they want to hold the district and other seats in November elections.
“I think all Republicans need to wake up and listen to what the public wants,” she said.
The Associated Press called the race for Lesko after state officials released tallies of more than 155,000 mail-in ballots, which represent about 75% of the votes expected.
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