nighttime city scape photo of Maricopa Country and Phoenix at dusk

The Next Trump Toxicity Test – Arizona Congressional District 8

by Richard Cameron


Arizona Congressional District 8 Special Election

The next in the series of temperature readings of the GOP’s national crisis of confidence with American voters, takes place in Arizona on April 24 – tomorrow.  Arizona Congressional District 8 (CD-8), will be the scene of a special election pitting the last (woman) standing from the recent Republican primary, against a non-politician – at least a non-career politician on the Democrat side of the ledger.

The GOP candidate is Debbie Lesko – a former state legislator from Arizona’s House and Senate.  Her Democrat challenger is Dr. Hiral Tipernini, who, if you are wondering, is an immigrant from India who has lived in the United States since the age of three.

photo montage of candidates for special congressional election in Arizona' CD-8 - Debbie Lesko (at left) and Dr. Hiral Tipernini (at right)
photo montage of candidates for special congressional election in Arizona’ CD-8 – Debbie Lesko (at left) and Dr. Hiral Tipernini (at right)

The primary held in late February, was perhaps strange by national standards and even so by Arizona standards, but far from surprising in the context of politics in CD-8.  Most of the entire field of Republicans, 12 in all, were in a wild stampede to convince Republican voters that they were the most staunch of Trump supporters.

One, Phil Lovas, who worked as the Chairman of the Trump campaign in the election, even insinuated an endorsement from Trump on his campaign signs, which featured a photo of the candidate and Trump, smiling and giving the “thumbs up” gesture.

Another, State Senator Steve Montenegro, touted an endorsement from the very House member formerly occupying the seat, Trent Franks.  Franks, who was forced to resign under a cloud of sexual misconduct and a referral by House Speaker Paul Ryan to the House Ethics Committee for actions including an offer to pay female staffers $5 million to act as surrogate mothers – and according to reports, not by artificial insemination.

Remarkably, Montenegro himself, was maneuvering, in texts and chats, for an intimate encounter with a legislative staffer. As a side note, Montenegro is an Associate Pastor at the Surprise Apostolic Assembly in Surprise, Arizona. Surprise, indeed.

The field this contest is being played out on, is a congressional district comprising a large sector of Maricopa County west and north-west of Phoenix.

The district, with a footprint of 9,000 plus square miles, is 74 percent White and the demographic skew also features a large contingent of citizens in the 55 and older age bracket.  From an electoral standpoint, the Cook Partisan Voting Index rates GOP candidates with a 13 percentage point advantage going into any elections and Donald Trump exceeded that margin by 7 points in 2016.

Maricopa County, broadly speaking, figures dramatically in the general category of Arizona as a consistently red state – and the state is controlled in the majority by the Republican party.

As you will recall, former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, was the nationally recognized law enforcement officer, who in recent years, was embroiled in numerous controversies and convicted of criminal contempt of court and later pardoned by Donald Trump.  Despite Arpaio’s precarious legal situation at the time, he ran for re-election as Sheriff against Democrat Paul Penzone.

Whatever good will Arpaio might have built up over the years with the voters in Maricopa County, his unseemly behavior and conduct defying the very rule of law he swore to uphold, eroded his political capital. Penzone defeated Arpaio by 665,478 votes (55.6%) to Arpaio’s 531,674 votes (44.4%)

Similarly, while Arpaio’s presence in the GOP Senate primary against Martha McSally and Kelli Ward, muddies the water to a degree, recent polls indicate that not only would he (Arpaio) not win the primary, but would be soundly defeated by Democrat Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema in the general election in November.

As an illustration of the hard core foaming at the mouth devotion of voters to Trump in certain parts of the district; after Debbie Lesko let slip that maybe an investigation should proceed on the question of Donald Trump’s sexual misconduct, she found herself having to walk the statement back and claim that her comments were misinterpreted.  Lesko said during a debate broadcast on a local radio station that Trump “needs to address [the allegations], obviously. It needs to be investigated.” 

After she discovered that the Trump voting contingent will not tolerate any equivocation, she revised her comments in a New York Times interview, telling the reporter that, “I didn’t mean a formal investigation by government or something like that. I just meant it needs to run its course.”  By the general standards in Maricopa County, Ms. Lesko is lukewarm about Trump.

montage of photos of campaign staffers for Democrat candidate Dr. Hiral Tipernini

Recent polls within the last week, show that either Ms. Tipernini is in the lead (Emerson College) by 1 point – 46 to 45, or behind, but as close as 10 points, (OH Predictive Insights/ABC 15).

On the hotbutton issues in the district – border security and gun control, the two candidates are really only separated by nuanced rhetoric. 

Dr. Tipernini on gun legislation:

“I support the Second Amendment … but I also support commonsense gun reforms, and I don’t think those two things are mutually exclusive,” 

Ms. Lesko on the same subject – “I’m a supporter of Second Amendment rights. Laws are followed by law-abiding citizens, so I don’t think we need any more laws.”

Regarding Trump’s proposal for a wall, Dr. Tipernini says:

“I understand that the idea of a wall, it makes people feel better … it makes you feel safer, but $26 billion is a long way to go to feel safe when it really doesn’t actually make us any safer.”

Tipernini points out that Trump’s border wall plan does not address the drugs entering the U.S. through official ports of entry and the large component of illegal immigration – Visa overstays.  Ms. Lesko, sees the wall as only one partial aspect of a comprehensive border security plan:

“I think a combination of all of those things, increasing border funding for a wall, increasing funding for border agents and technology will all help to keep us safer and to secure the border because government’s No. 1 responsibility is protecting its citizens, and part of that is securing the border.”

Political experts in the state, believe an upset win by Dr. Tipernini over Lesko, is possible, but unlikely. But even without an upset – a close finish will send another strong message to the national GOP. Right now, according to the Texas Tribune,  Senator Ted Cruz is in a real fight to retain his senate seat against Democrat challenger, Beto O’Rourke.  The only factor that is the outlier for Cruz, is his post election drift towards Trump.

Every time a major media correspondent conducts a focus group interview with steadfast Trump voters, nearly every Trump supporter in attendance, repeats the talking points fed to them by Fox News.  But the election polling tells a different story. GOP candidates who have staked their electoral hopes on their identification and affiliation with Donald Trump, are under performing or are in jeopardy of losing these races. 

The polling suggests the possibility that Trump voters are publicly saying they still support the president, but privately may be feeling the fatigue of Trump’s behavior and scandals.

Turn out on Tuesday, may wind up being the key to a win or loss for either Lesko or Tipernini. Garrett Archer, the Secretary of State’s senior analyst – also known as the “Arizona Data Guru” estimates that voting participation will be down.

Since this tweet on the 13th, he has revised the estimate of the number of residents voting, even further downward to under 300,000 votes cast.  Dr. Tipernini has been amassing the bulk of her campaign funds from small donors – a sign that they’ll surely be visiting the polls tomorrow.  If Republican voter enthusiasm is waning – and the polling seems to indicate that; Democrats might employ an invigorated get out the vote effort and shock the state and national political hacks alike.

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