As expected, the GOP won the deeply conservative Eighth Congressional District in Arizona but instead of high-fives, there was concern because the Democratic candidate made great inroads in a district that Donald Trump won by 21 points in 2016.
Debbie Lesko, a former state senator, was able to top Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, a physician, in Arizona’s special election for the 8th Congressional District. With most of the vote counted, Lesko led Tipirneni 52.6% to 47.4f%.
Lesko, who served as state legislature for the past nine years, was supposed to win. The single-digit victory in a district that Donald Trump won by 21 points and which there were twice as many registered Republicans than Democrats, raises serious concern for the race for U.S. Senate in November.
Republicans poured $700,000 into Lesko’s campaign to help bolster her chances and to ensure that the deep Red district stays in the GOP hands after a series of defeats in Alabama, Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Big-name Republicans like Rep. Paul Ryan came in to campaign for her.
The race had become a referendum on Donald Trump. Lesko supported Trump’s policies on immigration, taxes and health care; Tipirnene ran a Democratic campaign that stressed government-supported health care and saving social security and Medicare.
Her near-upset may show Democrats a route to victory in November when voters decide a replacement for U.S. Senator Jeff Flake.
Considering the unexpectedly thin margin, one has to wonder what would have happened if the Democratic Party had thrown more resources into the race. The Indian American physician, who never ran for public office before, actually raised more money than Lesko, had a more enthusiastic ground game and almost pulled off the upset.
Lesko will occupy the seat for the remainder of the term. That means she must run for re-election in November to keep it. That means Tipirnene will get another chance.
“Whatever happens in this race, we’ll figure it in the next 24 hours or so,” Tipirneni said Tuesday night to NBC-TV. “But win or lose, we’re taking this to November.”
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