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Another Special Election, Another Litmus Test for November: What To Know About Tuesday’s Race in Arizona

April 24, 2018, 10:17 AM UTC

On Tuesday, voters in Arizona’s 8th district will go to the polls to elect a new U.S. representative in a special election.

They will vote for Rep. Trent Franks’ replacement. Congressman resigned in December amid allegations that he had offered to pay a staffer $5 million to carry his child as a surrogate.

The candidates

First-time candidate Hiral Tipirneni is running on the Democratic ticket. An immigrant from India, Tipirneni moved to the U.S. when she was 3. She is an emergency room physician and cancer research advocate.

Tipirneni will face Republican and former state senator Debbie Lesko. Prior to serving as a state senator for the last three years, Lesko was a state representative for six years. During that time, she represented parts of Arizona’s 8th district.

What to expect

Arizona’s 8th district has long been a GOP stronghold, held by Republicans since the early 1980s. President Donal Trump carried the district by 21 percentage points in 2016, and Republican candidate Mitt Romney carried it by 25 percentage points in the 2012 presidential election. The district is also home to Maricopa County, where Joe Arpaio notoriously served as sheriff for 24 years.

While Democratic upsets have taken place in special elections from Pennsylvania to Alabama of late, Tipirneni’s odds of winning on Tuesday are still seen as slim. Registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats in the district 41% to 24%. According to 2010 Census data, the district is 18% Hispanic. Non-white voters typically lean left, but they tend to have low turnout rates.

What’s more, Arizona permits early voting. Of the approximately 150,000 people who have already voted, the data suggests that 49% are registered Republicans and 28% are registered Democrats.


Debbie Lesko is the GOP candidate in Tuesday’s race.Matt York—AP/REX/Shutterstock
Matt York—AP/REX/Shutterstock


Why it matters

Lesko, the Republican, may be favored to win, but the story doesn’t end there. The margin by which she wins will be significant, serving as an indication of what’s to come in November—particularly for Arizona’s Senate seat that’s being vacated by retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican.

If Lesko wins by single digits, it would reflect the broader trend of Democrat over-performance in other recent special elections.

According to data from FiveThirtyEight, the state of Arizona has a partisan lean of R+7.5, meaning that an overperformance of 8 points or more would “bode well” for Democrats in November’s Senate race. Flipping the seat currently held by outgoing Flake could be instrumental in changing control of the Senate.