Following a series of special election losses heading into what many analysts believe will be a Democratic sweep of legislative seats across the nation in upcoming midterm elections, Republicans got a reprieve this week with a congressional race in Arizona.
The race to replace U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, a Republican who resigned last year amid allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior, became much closer than the seat had seen in previous elections.
Hours after polls closed Tuesday night, however, it was clear Republican Debbie Lesko beat her Democratic challenger, Hiral Tipirneni.
Her victory received acknowledgement from supporters and Republican leaders including President Donald Trump.
In a tweet on Wednesday morning, the president congratulated her on “a big win in the Special Election for Arizona House seat.”
Trump predicted she “will do a Great Job” in the position, admonishing the news media for being “so silent.”
Congratulations to Republican Debbie Lesko on her big win in the Special Election for Arizona House seat. Debbie will do a Great Job! Press is so silent.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 25, 2018
In light of the fact that Trump won the same district by about 20 points, though, Lesko’s five-point victory is not seen by everyone in the GOP as a reason to celebrate.
As Politico reported, one GOP pollster in the state cited the outcome as a reason for the Republican Party to panic ahead of November’s midterm elections.
“Republicans shouldn’t be hitting the alarm, they should be slamming it,” Mike Noble said.
He said the district Lesko won was not even “supposed to be competitive,” noting that the slim victory came after Republicans injected significantly more money than such a race would typically require. All told, GOP groups from across the nation funneled more than $1 million in campaign resources to aid Lesko’s bid.
Noble called it a “tough year” for the GOP, a sentiment Arizona Republican donor Dan Eberhart echoed in his warning to the party.
“These election results are a wake-up call to Republicans in Arizona and nationally,” he said. “Winning the Arizona 8th by such a small margin portends very little margin of error for Gov. Doug Ducey and the eventual Arizona Republican Senate nominee this fall.”
Even after early voting seemed to indicate a more decisive win for the Republican, votes cast on Election Day and by independents showed a shift toward the Democrat.
According to Josh Ulibarri, a pollster who worked on Tipirneni’s campaign, there was also evidence she siphoned off a notable portion of the state’s Republican vote.
A Democratic consultant also involved in the campaign identified Trump as the common factor behind this and other races in which Republican candidates did not perform as expected.
“What you’re seeing is that Donald Trump is toxic, even in bright red Republican territory,” Rodd McLeod said.
He said independent voters in the state are “dismayed and distressed by what they’re seeing out of Trump’s Washington.”
Still, House Speaker Paul Ryan spoke for Republicans who see Tuesday’s victory as an encouragement heading into the midterms.
In a statement on the race, he said that the Lesko’s win “proves that Republicans have a positive record to run on this fall and we need to spend the next seven months aggressively selling our message to the American people.”
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