But Democrats will cheer if the result is close
THE Democratic wave that propelled the party to surprise victories in special elections in Alabama and Pennsylvania seems unlikely to reach Arizona’s eighth congressional district. In a special election on April 24th, voters will choose a successor to Trent Franks, who resigned in December following revelations that he had discussed surrogacy with two female staffers. This week, a poll by Emerson College showed the candidates neck-and-neck. But early voting, by which a majority of votes in this election will be cast, suggests a much higher turnout among Republicans than Democrats.
The Republican Party has a clear advantage in Arizona’s eighth, a suburban area north and west of Phoenix: it has 80,000 more registered members than the Democratic Party. The area hasn’t sent a Democrat to Congress since 1980 and in 2016 Donald Trump won the district by 21 percentage points. That’s about the same margin by which Mr Trump won Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, where Conor Lamb, a Democrat, stormed to surprise victory in March. But a couple of notable factors separate the special election in Arizona from PA-18.
In that race Republican voters selected a nominee with some significant flaws. The same could be said of the special Senate race in Alabama in December, where Doug Jones trounced Roy Moore. But it is not the case in Arizona’s eighth, where Hiral Tipirneni, the Democratic candidate (pictured, right), is running against Debbie Lesko, a former state senator (pictured left). Ms Lesko represented the area for nearly a decade and has a major support base among the area’s many retirees. And Ms Tipirneni, a political newcomer, seems unlikely to hold the same strong appeal for centrists as Mr Lamb, who touted his support for gun rights and his opposition to Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House.
That the Democratic Party does not expect a win in the district is reflected in its spending there. Ms Tipirneni has shown herself to be a strong fundraiser; she has raised more cash than her opponent and is outspending her on televisions ads. But in Alabama and Pennsylvania, Democratic campaign groups spent millions; in Arizona’s eighth district they have not.
National Republican groups, meanwhile, have spent fairly heavily: more than $800,000 on television and digital ads, mailings, phone banking and door-to-door canvassing in the district. For such organisations to feel the need to shell out in a staunchly conservative areas is remarkable, but it is probably down to fears that the party will underperform in an important year, rather than lose altogether. As America heads toward mid-term elections in November, any leftward movement will bode well for Democrats in swing states. Most of the seats the party will target in November will be less conservative than Arizona’s eighth district.
Chris Baker, a Republican operative who was involved in the district’s Republican primary in February says that if Ms Lesko only wins by six or seven percentage points, it will encourage Democrats’ hopes of a blue wave in November. “It’s not a scenario where national Republicans are riding in to rescue Debbie Lesko,” he said. “It’s more of a case of trying to control the narrative and trying to get a result that…we believe a Republican in that district should get.”
A relatively close loss for Tipirneni would bolster Democrats’ wider hopes in a traditionally red state. This year, they have a rare chance to win one of Arizona’s US Senate seats. Ms Tipirneni, who says she will run for a full-term in November, says the party is using the eighth district as an opportunity to lay groundwork for the mid-terms. “Whatever the result, we have done the hard work of building up our Democratic presence in this district that frankly has been ignored for a long time,” she said. “We have laid this sort of infrastructure and organisational effort that will get out of the vote.”