Views from the Edge
On the day of a special election in Arizona’s Congressional Eighth District, newcomer exudes confidence even though she’s a Democrat in an overwhelming Republican district that hasn’t elected a Democrat since 1980.
“I think there are a lot of recent elections to suggest that conventional wisdom doesn’t necessarily apply,” said Hiral Tipirneni, who is running for office for the first time. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm in our base. We have a large chunk of independent voters that I think are very persuadable, and frankly there are Republicans who are feeling very disaffected.”
The Indian American physician has come from obscurity to pull even with her Republican rival, Debbie Lesko, who has been the district’s representative in the state legislature since 2009.
The April 24 contest has become a referendum on Donald Trump.
Lesko backs three of biggest issues on Trump’s agenda: dismantle government health care, build a wall on Arizona’s border with Mexico, cut taxes for the top 1% and corporations and cut social security and Medicare to pay for those tax cuts that would raise the national debt.
Tipirneni is pushing an expanded Medicare plan that would allow people as young as 50 to enroll to opt-in to Medicare coverage, and opposes building a wall with Mexico while boosting enforcement through technology and drones and adding Border Patrol agents. She also supports tax cuts — for the middle class — and would protect Social Security and Medicare.
The big questions are whether the enthusiasm on the ground is in the Democrats’ favor; is it enough to overcome the huge Republican lead in voter registration? Almost three-quarters of the voters have already submitted their ballots by mail, typical of an older electorate. That means the majority of voters cast their ballots before the recent survey that showed the candidates in a dead heat.
Unfortunately for Tipirneni, 49 percent of those who have voted so far are registered Republicans; only 28 percent are registered Democrats. Nearly 60 percent of the electorate so far is age 65 or older.
It would be huge upset if Tipirneni were to win. The GOP has poured money into Lesko’s campaign to stanch the bleeding from recent losses in Alabama, Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Even if Lesko wins, if the margin of victory is less than 12 percent, the Democrats would see it as a victory because the District 8 election would set the stage for November when voters vote for U.S. Senate to replace Republican Jeff Flake.
The Arizona Republic, Phoenix’s biggest newspaper, has endorsed Tipirneni over Lesko. The paper’s endorsement editorial concludes: