Last night Democrats lost a special election. Republican Debbie Lesko beat Indian-American ER physician Hiral Tipirneni by roughly 6 points to represent Arizona’s 8th district after Congressman Trent Franks resigned over charges of sexual harassment. Republicans had reason to expect victory since Arizona, despite a 31% Latino/Hispanic population, is one of the most conservative states in the union – only two Democratic presidents have won its electoral votes since the end of World War Two and the last Democratic Senator to win there was Dennis DeConcini in 1988. The 8th district, which comprises the northwest suburbs of Phoenix and the Sun City retirement community, is 90% white and overwhelmingly Republican.
So should Republicans celebrate this victory and write obituaries for the Blue Wave? Not by a longshot. They may have won the battle, but the results show that Democrats are winning the war.
First off, the GOP spent one million dollars to defend this seat, with almost all of it coming from the RNC and its congressional arm. Paul Ryan hosted a fundraiser for Lesko; Trump and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy did robocalls. By contrast, Tipirneni only had a little less than $250,000 on hand and had no help from national Democrats. It didn’t matter.
Even with their anemic spending, and some of the harshest voter ID laws in the country, Tipirneni and the Democrats made astonishing gains in the 8th district. In 2016, Trump won it by 21 points, with Franks winning by 37. He was so entrenched here that Democrats didn’t bother to field candidates to run against him in both 2014 and 2016. Tipernini shrinking that gap by over 20 points is a huge victory in and of itself.
What’s more, according to ShareBlue, Republicans underperformed in 140 of the district’s 142 precincts, even though turnout wasn’t much different than in 2014. That’s right – Republicans only matched or exceeded their totals in two precincts. Check out this map from The New York Times showing Democratic gains across precincts, with all the little blue arrows signifying our gains:
And, in another sign of how motivated the party is to vote, Tipirneni made defending the Affordable Care Act her signature issue to fire up the base. You may think, “of course she would, she’s a doctor.” But the fact that she put the ACA front-and-center marks a huge shift in public opinion since the law’s passage in 2010 and the midterms that followed when the first class of Tea Party Republicans ousted several House Democrats who voted for it. Now, after years of attempting to repeal it, Republicans must realize they have been fighting a war of attrition, as healthcare is now a top priority for 2018 voters, and no longer a losing issue on its own.
Mike Noble, an Arizona-based Republican pollster, told Politico, “Republicans shouldn’t be hitting the alarm, they should be slamming it. This district isn’t supposed to be competitive, and so to see this margin, especially w/the Republicans pouring in resources here—again, it’s a tough year.”
A tough year indeed. Nate Silver predicts that if these results repeat themselves throughout the year, we will be well on our way towards taking back the House, and possibly even the Senate, as Democrat Kyrsten Sinema is beating all Republican hopefuls running for Jeff Flake’s seat this fall.
We’ve got ourselves a blue wave, folks, and the Republicans ain’t gonna be too pleased when it drowns them.