Democrats’ recent winning streak in special elections might be coming to an end with Tuesday’s contest in Arizona’s 8th congressional district. But the party still plans to count it as a victory.
Two women, Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, a cancer-research advocate, and Republican state Senator Debbie Lesko, are vying to fill the House seat vacated by Republican Trent Franks, who resigned in December after it was reported that he asked a staffer to be a surrogate. Only two people have represented the area—which includes the suburbs to the north and west of Phoenix—since 1977, and Democrats haven’t even had a candidate on the ballot since 2012. But a string of surprising wins in Alabama, Virginia, and most recently in Pennsylvania, has given Democrats cause for hope even in the reddest of places.
“It should be an unwinnable district for us,” said Andy Barr, a local Democratic strategist, citing the fact that Donald Trump won the district by a whopping 21 points in 2016. “It should not be possible for us to be in this position, and yet we are.”
Tipirneni, a former ER physician, has made health care the centerpiece of her long-shot campaign, advocating for a Medicare-for-all-type public option. She’s also vowed to increase investment in public education, a pretty timely issue in the state: Arizona educators voted last week in favor of a statewide walkout to protest low pay and school funding. On this, the Democrat has positioned herself directly opposite Lesko, a longtime proponent of school choice who recently earned praise from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for sponsoring a law to expand Arizona’s school-voucher program. Lesko has also campaigned heavily on enhancing border security and been a passionate supporter of President Trump’s proposed border wall.