Many Democrats were disappointed last night when a Republican won the congressional special election in Arizona’s 8th district, but they shouldn’t be. In many ways the voting results favor Democrats, both locally and nationally.
For one thing, Democrat Hiral Tipirneni ran a great race against Republican Debbie Lesko. Not only is the 8th district one that Donald Trump won by 21 percentage points in 2016, but it is also the home territory of the infamous right-wing racist birther Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The demographics of the district are such that a GOP blowout was expected: it is over 90% white and most of the voters are conservative senior citizens.
So even though Tipirneni lost by a little more than five percent, in many ways it was a victory. The Republican incumbent Trent Franks had resigned because he offered a female staff member $5 million to be his baby surrogate, but still nobody believed that this red Arizona district would ever turn blue, or even be competitive.
As one Arizona newspaper said last night, “Lesko’s narrow victory margin Tuesday will do little to calm Republicans nervous about the midterm races.”
Outside political groups had poured more than $700,000 into Lesko’s campaign. Some of the GOP’s biggest fundraising names went to campaign for her, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Clearly the Republicans weren’t taking any chances, and lucky for them that they didn’t.
The lesson from last night’s election is that even the reddest of the red congressional districts can be competitive in November’s midterm elections. And that is bad news for Republicans.
In Arizona’s 8th district the registered Republicans outnumber the registered Democrats by close to 20 percentage points. So when the GOP candidate wins by just 5 percentage points, it means that a significant number of Republicans switched sides. If this continues it could turn Arizona into a blue state.
Remember that in 2016 Donald Trump won Arizona by only 3 percentage points, and since then the Hispanic population has increased while the number of young voters has increased also.
Richard Herrera, an Arizona State professor of political science, said independents and Republican voters who cast ballots for candidates opposite of their party were the big story last night.
“Voters don’t switch parties easily,” he said. “It’s a difficult, difficult thing. And troubling for the Republican Party. If you’re the Republican county chair, or the Republican Arizona state chair, you’re very worried right now.”
In her concession speech, Tipirneni thanked supporters and looked ahead to a November rematch.
“People are looking at CD8 in a very different light tonight and that’s because something’s happening here,” Tipirneni said. “What it comes down to is I think we knew our community and our district and our neighborhoods a hell of a lot better than the pundits did.”
Later, she told her upbeat audience: “Win or lose, we’re taking this to November.”
Tipirneni may have lost last night but the Democratic Blue Wave is alive and well for November.