The Republican National Committee has put $281,250 into the special election to replace former congressman Trent Franks, the first financial commitment by either national party in a district that has voted reliably Republican since being drawn in 2011.
The RNC declined to comment on the investment, but Arizona’s 8th District was not necessarily seen as a potential Democratic pickup. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won just 37 percent of the vote in the district — worse than her showing in Pennsylvania’s 18th District, which Democrat Conor Lamb just won in a squeaker.
The Cook Political Report rates the Arizona 8th as “safe” for Republicans, and Democrats seemed to write off the district after scandal-plagued former state senator Steve Montenegro lost last month’s Republican primary to former state senator Debbie Lesko. The election to replace Franks, who resigned after it was revealed that he had urged an employee to bear his child as surrogate mother, is on April 24.
Even Democratic nominee Hiral Tipirneni has portrayed Lesko as a heavy favorite. In a poll by Lake Research Partners for Tipirneni’s campaign, the Republican held a 14-point lead, and 59 percent of likely voters in the district said that they approved of President Trump. But after Lamb’s surprise victory, it appears Republicans aren’t taking anything for granted.
Lesko did enter the general election dinged by scandal after Montenegro said that she had broken campaign finance law by moving money from her state campaign fund to a super PAC that boosted her congressional campaign.
Tipirneni, an emergency room physician and first-time candidate, had slightly more cash on hand than Lesko at the start of the general election; last week, she began running a sharp-edged ad that portrayed Lesko as “everything you hate about politics,” making use of an awkward interview in which Lesko defended her vote for a tax increase by saying she talked to a lobbyist who supported it.
On Wednesday, the RNC sent national reporters a rundown of negative stories about Tipirneni, branding her as too “far to the left” for one of Arizona’s most conservative districts; on Friday it clipped her answers in a televised debate to advertise her opposition to the tax cuts passed by Congress last year and to Trump’s proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. But Democrats were confused by the RNC’s attack on Tipirneni for supporting NAFTA, a trade deal that’s more popular in border states than it is in the Rust Belt.
“Spending more than a quarter-million DC dollars for door-to-door outreach is a bit surprising,” said Tipirneni’s spokesman, Jason Kimbrough. “It just shows how worried they must be about enthusiasm for their ethically challenged nominee. Dr. Tipirneni’s a strong candidate, especially when compared to career politician Debbie Lesko, who’s obviously in trouble.”