By any standard, Arizona’s 8th Congressional District is the land of suburbs.
The Republican stronghold made up of affluent, older and overwhelmingly white voters is known for its highways cutting through vast farm fields and even more vast retirement communities.
But in recent months, the district has become known for something else entirely.
In December, Arizona Rep. Trent Franks announced his resignation amid an investigation into sexual harassment allegations after one staffer said Franks relentlessly pressured her to carrying his child, even offering her $5 million to do so.
The open seat has drawn eyes, offering Democrats an opportunity to capture the seat Franks has held since 2013. As the April 24 special election approaches, recent polling by Emerson College found Republican Debbie Lesko and Democrat Hiral Tipirneni in a virtual deadlock.
“In this race, who’s to say who’s going to win,” said Spencer Kimball, an Emerson College pollster. “It’s, in our eyes, a toss-up between the two candidates.”
Spending in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District Special Election
|Candidate||Raised||Spent||Outside Spending Supporting||Outside Spending Opposing|
|Lesko, Debbie (R)||$564,404||$510,760||$702,685||$47,900|
|Tipirneni, Hiral (D)||$734,937||$609,993||$14,114||$460,982|
With uncertainty tethered to the election, outside money supporting Republicans has flooded into the race. As of April, outside spenders like political action committees (PACs) and “dark money” groups have spent more than $1.5 million on the election.
The majority of that has been spent in support of Lesko, a former Arizona state senator zeroing in on immigration, and against Tipirneni, an emergency room physician focusing on healthcare.
Among the district’s top spenders is the newly formed super PAC, Defend Us PAC, yet another political organization connected to David Langdon, the small-town Ohio lawyer who quietly sits at the center of a network of “dark money” groups.
This cycle, Langdon’s PAC has spent $208,466, all of which went into aiding Lesko in her campaign.
When the super PAC was formed in March 2017, Langdon was listed as the “custodian of records” in the organization’s Federal Election Commission filings.
Since its formation, the PAC has received only two donations totaling $85,000 — both coming from another Langdon-affiliated group, American Policy Coalition Inc., formerly known as BluegrassVotes.org.
Records list multiple addresses associated with American Policy Coalition Inc. in Kentucky, Ohio, Maryland and Washington, D.C. Many of those addresses are P.O. boxes, a tactic often used to obscure the paper trail of “dark money” groups.
Major GOP spenders like the National Republican Congressional Committee and Republican National Committee also came out to play, topping the campaign spending charts in their support of Lesko and opposition of Tipirneni.
Top Outside Spenders in Arizona’s Special Election
|Committee||Type of Group||2018 Total Spending|
|Republican National Committee||PAC||$431,567|
|National Republican Congressional Committee||PAC||$383,193|
|Defend US PAC||Super PAC||$208,466|
|Jobs, Growth & Freedom Fund||PAC||$174,351|
|National Horizon||Super PAC||$103,226|
|Congressional Leadership Fund||Super PAC||$102,350|
|House Freedom Action||Super PAC||$56,500|
|Public Integrity Alliance||501c||$51,328|
|Conservative Leadership for Arizona||Super PAC||$27,774|
|Progressive Turnout Project||PAC||$14,114|
Despite that, Tipirneni has outraised and outspent Lesko’s campaign, raising $734,937 to Lesko’s $564,404.
Any small political or monetary nudge may tip the scale, according to Kimball, whose Monday poll put Tipirneni one point ahead of Lesko. While that number is well within the margin of error, an earlier poll had Lesko in a comfortable lead.
Emerson’s poll also showed that Tipirneni held higher favorability and higher excitement among her voters, and that locals who voted for Hillary Clinton in the previous election were more likely to stick with their party than people who voted for Donald Trump.
The shift may follow a larger trend sprouting up in the 2018 midterm elections that Kimball described as “traditionally Republican areas splitting or leaning their vote toward the Democrat.”
Arizona’s special election, he said, is shaping up to look remarkably similar to the special election in Pennsylvania last month. That race also drew national attention when a Democrat pulled off an upset victory in a conservative district, nabbing the seat by just 627 votes.
“What’s surprising is in the primary in this race, Republicans came out almost two-to-one to Democrats in their respective primaries,” Kimball said. “That’s usually an indication of voter energy and excitement. Now all of the sudden, the race has kind of flipped.”