GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — 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.
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.
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.