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Republican Debbie Lesko wins special election in Arizona's 8th congressional district

Last Updated Apr 25, 2018 11:38 AM EDT

It took a big money push from the Republican Party, tweets by the president and the support of the state's current and former governors, but the GOP held onto an Arizona U.S. House seat they would have never considered endangered in any other year.

Tuesday's narrow victory by Republican Debbie Lesko over a Democratic political newcomer sends a big message to Republicans nationwide: Even the reddest of districts in a red state can be in play this year. Lesko won by about 5 percentage points in Arizona's 8th Congressional District, where Donald Trump won by 21 percentage points.

The former state senator defeated Hiral Tipirneni, a former emergency room physician who had hoped to replicate surprising Democratic wins in Pennsylvania, Alabama and other states in a year where opposition to President Trump's policies have boosted Democrats' chances in Republican strongholds.

Republican political consultant Chuck Coughlin called Tuesday's special election margin "not good" for national Republicans looking at their chances in November.

Debbie Lesko

Debbie Lesko in undated photo

Screengrab from campaign video

"They should clean house in this election," said Coughlin, longtime adviser to former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. "There's a drag on the midterms for Republican candidates that's being created by the national narrative. And it would be very hard to buck that trend if you're in swing districts, much less close districts, if you can't change that narrative between now and November." 

Tuesday's special election determined who would replace former Rep. Trent Franks, a Republican who resigned in December after he was accused of harassment. At the time, he was faced with a House Ethics Committee investigation into whether his behavior constituted sexual harassment. Politico reported Franks offered former aides millions to birth his child, and The Associated Press reported he discussed surrogacy with former staffers.

Victories in historically red districts will be crucial for Republicans as they hope to maintain the House. According to the latest Real Clear Politics aggregation of polls, Democrats are up 5.5 points in the generic House ballot.