CD 8 Special Election Day


The CD 8 special election today is just the first in a “two-fer” election this year. November is the grand prize. Close counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and “two-fer” special elections.

Donald Trump won this district by 21 points. A single digit finish for Democrat Hiral Tipirneni is still a “win” because it will attract DNC and outside group money this fall that she has not received in this special election.

The New York Times takes notice today, Special Election: Republicans Are Dominant But Still Nervous:

We’re watching Tuesday’s special election in Arizona closely, not because we expect the Democrats to stage an upset (the congressional district is solidly Republican), but because Republicans are showing concern over the outcome. Here’s what makes this House race interesting.

The district is deeply red.

Debbie Lesko, a former Republican state senator, is facing the Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, a doctor, in the race for the Phoenix-area seat that is reliably Republican.

After the district lines were redrawn in 2012, the district has voted Republican in the past three elections, and it has supported Republican presidential nominees by large margins.

Donald J. Trump won the district by more than 20 percentage points in 2016. Four years earlier, Mitt Romney had won it by almost 25 points.

The Eighth District seat was vacated by Representative Trent Franks, a Republican who resigned after he was revealed to have offered $5 million to an aide in exchange for carrying his child.

But Republicans are worried enough that they spent a lot of money here.

To assure success, Republican leaders and groups have poured money into Ms. Lesko’s race, taking a variety of precautionary measures, like spending on ads and deploying robo-calls from Mr. Trump.

The Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee have together spent more than $900,000 to boost Ms. Lesko.

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The House Democratic campaign arm and House Majority PAC — the best-funded House Democratic super PAC — have not supported Ms. Tipirneni to the same extent. That the national Democrats have not intervened indicates that they believe the predominantly white Eighth District, an area in and around Sun City and home to a sizable senior population, is out of reach.

It’s unlikely that the seat will flip Democratic, but a close margin is possible.

Two metrics offer otherwise-nervous Republican officials the most reassurance in a district where many of the ballots are cast early: Most people who have already voted are Republicans, and the median age of voters is 67. Since early voting began on April 2, nearly half of the 150,000 Arizonans who have sent ballots are Republican, a sign that Ms. Lesko is most likely leading by a substantial margin.

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Nearly a quarter of voters are independents, meaning Ms. Tipirneni would have to capture some Republican voters and win overwhelmingly among independents to claim victory.

Unlike with the House seat that Democrats won in Pennsylvania last month, where a Libertarian won 1,379 crucial votes, there is no third-party candidate on the ballot to make it easier for Ms. Tipirneni to prevail without a majority.

Most voters sending in ballots are nearing or enjoying retirement. Seniors are both the most conscientious voters and, in this district, largely conservative-leaning.

But in the final days of the race, the median age of voters has grown slightly younger — an indication that the contest has closed some and that less reliable Republicans are participating. The uptick in younger voters suggests the race has won attention in the broader, more politically mixed electorate.

This race is on no one’s list of seats that will determine control of the House. But the closer the margin, the more alarmed Republicans will be about the enthusiasm gap between the two parties going into November.

Michelle Goldberg of the Times opines today, Hope in Arizona:

Phoenix — On Tuesday, there’s a special election in Arizona’s Eighth Congressional District, which Donald Trump won by 21 percentage points. It’s to replace Trent Franks, the abortion opponent who resigned amid reports that he tried to create his own personal version of “The Handmaid’s Tale” by pressuring female employees to serve as gestational surrogates.

In the past two elections, Democrats didn’t contest the district, which encompasses suburbs northwest of Phoenix. This time, a Democrat named Hiral Tipirneni, a former emergency room physician and first-time political candidate, is running against a Republican state senator, Debbie Lesko. Though Lesko is expected to win, some polls show the race in a dead heat, and Republicans have spent more than $1 million on the campaign.

On Thursday, public schoolteachers in Arizona, among the lowest paid in the country, are planning to walk out, following the lead of teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky. For 15 years, “we’ve continued to get cut and cut and cut,” Theresa Ratti, who teaches high school in Mesa, told me. “My A.P. government textbook that I teach from, the new president is George W. Bush.”

These two events — an unexpectedly competitive Eighth District election and a rare labor action by teachers — are connected. Partly this is because Lesko is a villain to many local champions of public education. I met Ratti as she prepared to go canvassing for Tipirneni; she told me, “Lesko has been an advocate of vouchers and privatization and pretty much anything she can do to destroy the public school system.”

Lesko was the prime sponsor of the “vouchers on steroids” bill that education advocates successfully stalled with a referendum that is on the ballot this fall as Prop. 305 (barring some late bullshit from our GOP-controlled state legislature to “repeal and replace” the voucher bill to nullify the referendum).

But there’s a deeper link. Both the walkout and the surprising viability of Tipirneni’s campaign are manifestations of the explosive activist energy, particularly among women, set off by the catastrophe of Trump’s election. Since Hillary Clinton’s defeat, “college-educated women have ramped up their political participation en masse,” the historian Lara Putnam and the political scientist Theda Skocpol wrote in a recent article, “Middle America Reboots Democracy.” It’s this civic renewal that is transforming politics in Arizona.

Speaking to activists here, I was struck by how similar their stories were to those I’d heard last year while reporting on a special congressional election in Georgia’s Sixth District. In both places, women who were once politically disengaged felt demeaned by Trump’s victory. Overcome by a need to do something in response, they’d turned to local politics, which had gradually come to consume their lives.

Save Our Schools, a prominent grass-roots organization supporting the walkout, is an outgrowth of an Arizona group called Stronger Together, which itself is a spinoff of the pro-Hillary Clinton Facebook group Pantsuit Nation. Dawn Penich-Thacker, one of the founders of Save Our Schools, once served as a public affairs officer for the Army, and compared the relationships among the state’s newly minted activists to the bonding she experienced in the military. “It’s the deepest friendship,” she said.

She introduced me to Jaclyn Boyes, whom she met when Boyes started a petition demanding that Arizona’s Republican senator Jeff Flake hold a town hall. After Trump’s election, Boyes told me, she had the desolate sense that “half of my country doesn’t like me because I’m black.”

Boyes attended the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, her first ever demonstration. Now she lives and breathes activism; when the Arizona Legislature considered a bill cracking down on protest she joked, “But if I can’t protest, what will I do with my friends?”

She joined a chapter of Indivisible, a nationwide resistance organization, which has focused on recruiting and training Democratic precinct committeemen, the people who link their neighborhoods to the party. Steven Slugocki, chairman of the Democratic Party in Maricopa County, which includes the Eighth District, told me that before the election, Republicans had more than 3,000 precinct committeemen in the county, and Democrats only 600. Since 2016, he said, the Democrats’ total has grown to 1,700.

Even with this new infrastructure, local activists realize that winning on Tuesday is a long shot. Unlike the pro-Trump district that the Democrat Conor Lamb won in Pennsylvania, Arizona’s Eighth has no Democratic roots. It’s both very white and, because of a high concentration of retirees, very old.

Nor is it clear how long progressive enthusiasm can sustain the teachers’ walkout. Arizona has little tradition of union activism, and teachers I spoke to are worried about public support.

But whatever happens this week, politics in Arizona, which Trump won by a mere 3.5 percentage points and which is key to the Democratic dream of retaking the Senate, is changing fast. Though our national politics remains a horror show, here, among so many indefatigable women, it’s easy to be hopeful.

Tipirneni — also inspired to enter the political fray by the shock of Trump’s election — insisted that she’s optimistic about Tuesday. “Something is happening here,” she told me.

Even if she comes up short, the work she’s done to build up the Democratic Party in her district will have a lasting impact, she said: “It’s going to be incredible to see what Arizona looks like after November.”

So what is Arizona getting in Debbie Lesko? A board member and state chairman of the “Kochtopus” who has a history of copying and pasting lobbyist-written legislation (h/t Daily Kos):

Arizona State Sen. Republican Debbie Lesko is running in the special election on April 24, for the vacant seat of Republican scandal-resigner Trent Franks’s seat, against Democrat Hiral Tipirneni. She is favored to win the red seat back for the Republicans in a race that’s shown all of the sociopathic hallmarks of the Republican balancing act of pretending they both support and are not complicit in their current leadership. And as the Intercept reports, Lesko is the perfect Republican candidate with a long history of copying and pasting conservative lobbyist private interests directly into the bills she has written.

LESKO’S WORK THROUGH ALEC has helped her produce a steady stream of other interest group-authored bills. ALEC, for instance, has worked closely with for-profit charter schools to develop a range of model bills to help channel taxpayer money from public schools into proprietary charters schools. The largest names in the for-profit primary education industry, such as “virtual charter school” operators K12 Inc. and Connections Academy, have sponsored ALEC conferences and helped to author these charter-expansion bills.

The Intercept provides side-by-side comparisons of State Sen. Lesko’s “bill,” and ALEC’s sponsorship proposals. It’s like reading the worst plagiarized high school book report where one term—in this case using “handbook” instead of “catalogue”—is supposed to throw us off the scent of corruption. This is just one example of the numerous times state Sen. Lesko proposed legislation that simply changes the stationary on which the lobbyist wrote the original proposal. The Health Care Compact was an attempt by ALEC to undermine the Affordable Care Act, by pulling Medicare away from the federal government and into the hands of the state. Lesko proposed HB2509—the same thing.

Not only is Lesko an ALEC board member and frequent speaker at the group’s events, but she was also recognized as ALEC’s lawmaker of the year in 2016. She appeared on television once to defend the organization from critics who said the group provides a backdoor channel for special interests to exercise influence over legislators.

This is the definition of the swamp.


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