Debbie Lesko Wins Arizona Special Election for Congress, Rallying G.O.P.


But after the previous representative, Trent Franks, resigned following revelations he had offered $5 million to an aide in exchange for carrying his child, Arizona Democrats rallied to Ms. Tipirneni. She outraised Ms. Lesko in what was the first high-profile congressional election since 2016 between two women.

National Democrats, however, stayed away from the race, deducing that a district that has sent only Republicans to Congress for four decades was out of reach. And any hopes Ms. Tipirneni had to win outside support may have faded this month when a local TV station reported that she had not practiced medicine since 2007 and had settled a malpractice lawsuit with a woman who blamed her for contracting tetanus.

In contrast, the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund, the primary House Republican super PAC, each poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race. The investment proved critical in what became an unexpectedly close race.

Photo

Debbie Lesko, a former Republican state senator in Arizona, ran as a dependable supporter of President Trump and assailed her opponent for not supporting White House priorities.

Credit
Matt York/Associated Press

“It’s a warning shot,” Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, said of the results. “Anything below a 10-point margin is not good news.”

Ms. Lesko, 59, ran as a dependable supporter of Mr. Trump and assailed Ms. Tipirneni for not backing White House priorities like the construction of a wall on the Mexican border. With help from the battery of outside Republican organizations, Ms. Lesko sought to polarize the district along traditional partisan lines, branding Ms. Tipirneni as a liberal and a puppet of Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader.

Rather than wait for the contest to tighten, the groups helped Ms. Lesko build an early advantage in a race in which the vast majority of voters cast their ballots early. Registered Republicans far outnumbered Democrats in the early voting period, and the median age was 67 among those voting before Election Day, an indication of a heavily conservative electorate.

Ms. Tipirneni, 50, found energetic support among some women in the district who were uneasy about Mr. Trump and had been roused to get active in politics. As Representative Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania did in a special election last month, she offered herself as a moderate who would not support Ms. Pelosi for House speaker.

But unlike Mr. Lamb’s Pittsburgh-area seat — which includes an array of vote-rich, upscale suburbs — the Arizona district is full of AARP-eligible snowbirds, reliably Republican Mormons and military families who work at nearby Luke Air Force Base. And this race was a head-to-head contest — there was no Libertarian on the ballot, as in Pennsylvania, who could have allowed Ms. Tipirneni to eke out a win had it proved closer.

This was not a district that was on either party’s list of seats that will determine control of the House. But the steps conservatives took to secure victory for a former officeholder illustrate just how much the anti-Trump energy on the left is putting Republicans on the defensive across the country.

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Year of the Woman? In Arizona, It’s Women, Plural, and It’s Both Parties


The state embodies dynamics seen across the country. Shocked and despairing at Mr. Trump’s election, women on the left concluded they had been complacent and are now diving into politics, many for the first time. Democrats are hoping to capitalize on a growing Hispanic electorate; Republicans are testing whether their close embrace of the president helps or hurts.

Among the state’s marquee races is an all-out fight for the Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake, with candidates including Representative Martha McSally, the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot; Kelli Ward, a former state senator and hard-right politician known for her conspiracy theories; and Joe Arpaio, the sheriff whose anti-immigrant stances cost him his job in 2016 on the Republican side. Representative Kyrsten Sinema is running against another woman and several men on the Democratic side. On the state level, January Contreras, a Democrat, is the first Latina to run for state attorney general.

There’s also a #MeToo-inflected special election to replace Representative Trent Franks, who resigned under pressure in a sexual harassment scandal. On April 24 Debbie Lesko, a former state senator who beat 11 Republican male primary challengers as a full-throated Trump supporter, will face off against Hiral Tipirneni, a doctor and political newcomer who trained with Emerge America, one of several groups that recruit Democratic women to run for office.

Still, Arizona remains a state that has not had a Democratic senator since 1995 and where Republicans have the trifecta of governor and both houses of the legislature. Entrenched conservative values will clash this year with a liberal fervor that often plays out at the local level, in grinding, unglamorous work.

This surge of activism is engaging women of all ages and backgrounds, but tensions are already flaring between women on the left and the center about whom to endorse. Advice and training are pouring in from a bevy of national organizations, including Planned Parenthood and Indivisible, another of the “resistance” groups that published a widely downloaded organizing guide.

Photo

Political activists last month in Peoria, Ariz., preparing for a canvassing event before a congressional special election between two women on April 24.

Credit
Caitlin O’Hara for The New York Times

Photo

Jennifer Eisel of Stand Indivisible Arizona passed information about the coming special election to a potential voter last month in Peoria.

Credit
Caitlin O’Hara for The New York Times

Women make up a majority of Indivisible’s ranks in Phoenix; they hold weekly protests, canvass for candidates and convene summit meetings, including a visit from the strategists who ran the ground game for the recent Democratic gains in the Virginia state legislature. Julie Golding, a financial analyst, maintains an “AZ Resist” calendar of activities across the state that logs between 30 and 60 events a day.

Democrats continue to hope that they can win votes by increasing turnout among Arizona’s large and growing Hispanic population. Ana Maria Escobedo, an entrepreneur, joined Indivisible determined to rally more Hispanics to register; she is knocking on doors to enlist new voters, and proudly recounted how she and an avid Trump supporter spent all night talking at a wedding so she could rebut him point by point.

Sustaining this momentum is far from assured. “People are angry,” said Kate Fisher, who corrals volunteers for Planned Parenthood. “But to translate that into activists who will be here in November — that’s the challenge.” On top of her day job as an engineer at Arizona State University, Ms. Fisher devotes nights and weekends to juggling schedules for voter registration, inviting volunteers to dinner and guiding them to political organizing tools like the Voter Action Network, a database that tracks voter records and assesses who’s persuadable.

Other women have geared up to run for local offices where Republicans have enjoyed considerable success, with the party controlling 32 state legislatures to Democrats’ 13. Jennifer Jermaine interrupted her maternity leave after the election to post a call on Facebook for a new group she christened Stronger Together Arizona to mobilize community action including voter registration. Within 10 days, she said she had 10,000 members and 1,000 women attended the first meeting on Nov. 20; they in turn spun off Save Our Schools Arizona, which capitalizes on growing anger about education cuts.

“The moms of Arizona got pissed off and decided to do something,” she said. Now she is collecting signatures to appear on the ballot to challenge a Republican state representative.

Photo

Mickey Tucker, left, a founder of Desert Progressives, puts a stamp on a finished card at a postcard party at a Panera Bread last month in Phoenix.

Credit
Caitlin O’Hara for The New York Times

Photo

Ms. Tucker counts finished cards at the postcard party in Phoenix.

Credit
Caitlin O’Hara for The New York Times

This influx of newly involved women meshes and sometimes clashes with years of political action by a growing cadre of Hispanics enraged by anti-immigrant policies. Carmen Cornejo, chairwoman of Chicanos Por La Causa and a longtime advocate for the Dreamers, said an early example and playbook for many of today’s mobilization efforts in the Latino community was the recall of the State Senate president, Russell Pearce, in 2011 and the defeat of Mr. Arpaio in 2016.

Several longtime Hispanic advocates welcome the swell of activism, but say that some of the newcomers failed to defer to their experience, heed their strategic advice, or embrace their political priorities.

“They need to trust that women of color can be strategists,” said Alejandra Gomez, co-executive director of Lucha, a local advocacy group. We know we’re in it for the long haul. We want these women to also be in it for the long haul, not just this fired-up moment.”

Ms. Gomez’s commitment was forged by personal experience. She is a citizen, but her father was not until recently, and the family left California in 1999 as anti-immigrant sentiment swelled, only to encounter it again in Arizona. She, like some other Hispanic activists and progressive groups, has balked at what she sees as a lessening of commitment on immigration issues by Democrats like Ms. Sinema who are trying to woo independents and moderate Republicans. Ms. Cornejo says she hopes young activists will eventually accept a candidate like Ms. Sinema to stave off harsher measures that Republicans endorse; Ms. Gomez once admired her but now says she would not back her. Ms. Sinema’s office declined to comment.

As these tensions play out among Democrats, Republican women are also vying to claim an Arizona heritage that has embraced feisty women stretching back to the state’s frontier and rancher roots.

As a former fighter pilot given to blunt pronouncements, Ms. McSally fits this mold and is most pundits’ bet to oppose Ms. Sinema for Senate. According to a tally of statewide and congressional races kept by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, so far more Democratic women than Republican ones are running for state and congressional seats in Arizona, but Republican women remain formidable in the state.

One early test of Republican strength may be the special election.

Ms. Tipirneni, in an echo of Democratic national strategy, is hoping to carve out support from independents and moderate Republicans through her embrace of health care and opposition to a school voucher plan Ms. Lesko backed.

But Ms. Lesko has several advantages: years in the state legislature; a district where far more Republicans voted in the primary than Democrats; and an electorate she says is majority pro-Trump, even as she has called on the president to address accusations of sexual improprieties. She also says her own history as an abused wife who mustered the courage to leave her first husband more than 25 years ago has resonated with other women.

For her part, Ms. Iyer is relishing her transition from suburban mother to legislative scourge. She posted her first newsletter on Facebook, reaching about 350 friends; now she posts it on a civic engagement site and estimates it reaches about 35,000 people. In the days after the presidential election, she discovered Arizona’s Request to Speak program, which allows a verified voter to register an opinion on a bill and ask to appear before the legislature. At first, she said, she noticed a lawmaker rolling his eyes and others texting under the table as she spoke.

But after the successful Save Our Schools petition drive and her attendance at statewide protests calling for teachers’ raises, she recounted a different attitude: “They know when we sit in their office that there are thousands more like us.”

Continue reading the main story

Year of the Woman? In Arizona, It’s Women, Plural, and It’s Both Parties


The state embodies dynamics seen across the country. Shocked and despairing at Mr. Trump’s election, women on the left concluded they had been complacent and are now diving into politics, many for the first time. Democrats are hoping to capitalize on a growing Hispanic electorate; Republicans are testing whether their close embrace of the president helps or hurts.

Among the state’s marquee races is an all-out fight for the Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake, with candidates including Representative Martha McSally, the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot; Kelli Ward, a former state senator and hard-right politician known for her conspiracy theories; and Joe Arpaio, the sheriff whose anti-immigrant stances cost him his job in 2016 on the Republican side. Representative Kyrsten Sinema is running against another woman and several men on the Democratic side. On the state level, January Contreras, a Democrat, is the first Latina to run for state attorney general.

There’s also a #MeToo-inflected special election to replace Representative Trent Franks, who resigned under pressure in a sexual harassment scandal. On April 24 Debbie Lesko, a former state senator who beat 11 Republican male primary challengers as a full-throated Trump supporter, will face off against Hiral Tipirneni, a doctor and political newcomer who trained with Emerge America, one of several groups that recruit Democratic women to run for office.

Still, Arizona remains a state that has not had a Democratic senator since 1995 and where Republicans have the trifecta of governor and both houses of the legislature. Entrenched conservative values will clash this year with a liberal fervor that often plays out at the local level, in grinding, unglamorous work.

This surge of activism is engaging women of all ages and backgrounds, but tensions are already flaring between women on the left and the center about whom to endorse. Advice and training are pouring in from a bevy of national organizations, including Planned Parenthood and Indivisible, another of the “resistance” groups that published a widely downloaded organizing guide.

Photo

Political activists last month in Peoria, Ariz., preparing for a canvassing event before a congressional special election between two women on April 24.

Credit
Caitlin O’Hara for The New York Times

Photo

Jennifer Eisel of Stand Indivisible Arizona passed information about the coming special election to a potential voter last month in Peoria.

Credit
Caitlin O’Hara for The New York Times

Women make up a majority of Indivisible’s ranks in Phoenix; they hold weekly protests, canvass for candidates and convene summit meetings, including a visit from the strategists who ran the ground game for the recent Democratic gains in the Virginia state legislature. Julie Golding, a financial analyst, maintains an “AZ Resist” calendar of activities across the state that logs between 30 and 60 events a day.

Democrats continue to hope that they can win votes by increasing turnout among Arizona’s large and growing Hispanic population. Ana Maria Escobedo, an entrepreneur, joined Indivisible determined to rally more Hispanics to register; she is knocking on doors to enlist new voters, and proudly recounted how she and an avid Trump supporter spent all night talking at a wedding so she could rebut him point by point.

Sustaining this momentum is far from assured. “People are angry,” said Kate Fisher, who corrals volunteers for Planned Parenthood. “But to translate that into activists who will be here in November — that’s the challenge.” On top of her day job as an engineer at Arizona State University, Ms. Fisher devotes nights and weekends to juggling schedules for voter registration, inviting volunteers to dinner and guiding them to political organizing tools like the Voter Action Network, a database that tracks voter records and assesses who’s persuadable.

Other women have geared up to run for local offices where Republicans have enjoyed considerable success, with the party controlling 32 state legislatures to Democrats’ 13. Jennifer Jermaine interrupted her maternity leave after the election to post a call on Facebook for a new group she christened Stronger Together Arizona to mobilize community action including voter registration. Within 10 days, she said she had 10,000 members and 1,000 women attended the first meeting on Nov. 20; they in turn spun off Save Our Schools Arizona, which capitalizes on growing anger about education cuts.

“The moms of Arizona got pissed off and decided to do something,” she said. Now she is collecting signatures to appear on the ballot to challenge a Republican state representative.

Photo

Mickey Tucker, left, a founder of Desert Progressives, puts a stamp on a finished card at a postcard party at a Panera Bread last month in Phoenix.

Credit
Caitlin O’Hara for The New York Times

Photo

Ms. Tucker counts finished cards at the postcard party in Phoenix.

Credit
Caitlin O’Hara for The New York Times

This influx of newly involved women meshes and sometimes clashes with years of political action by a growing cadre of Hispanics enraged by anti-immigrant policies. Carmen Cornejo, chairwoman of Chicanos Por La Causa and a longtime advocate for the Dreamers, said an early example and playbook for many of today’s mobilization efforts in the Latino community was the recall of the State Senate president, Russell Pearce, in 2011 and the defeat of Mr. Arpaio in 2016.

Several longtime Hispanic advocates welcome the swell of activism, but say that some of the newcomers failed to defer to their experience, heed their strategic advice, or embrace their political priorities.

“They need to trust that women of color can be strategists,” said Alejandra Gomez, co-executive director of Lucha, a local advocacy group. We know we’re in it for the long haul. We want these women to also be in it for the long haul, not just this fired-up moment.”

Ms. Gomez’s commitment was forged by personal experience. She is a citizen, but her father was not until recently, and the family left California in 1999 as anti-immigrant sentiment swelled, only to encounter it again in Arizona. She, like some other Hispanic activists and progressive groups, has balked at what she sees as a lessening of commitment on immigration issues by Democrats like Ms. Sinema who are trying to woo independents and moderate Republicans. Ms. Cornejo says she hopes young activists will eventually accept a candidate like Ms. Sinema to stave off harsher measures that Republicans endorse; Ms. Gomez once admired her but now says she would not back her. Ms. Sinema’s office declined to comment.

As these tensions play out among Democrats, Republican women are also vying to claim an Arizona heritage that has embraced feisty women stretching back to the state’s frontier and rancher roots.

As a former fighter pilot given to blunt pronouncements, Ms. McSally fits this mold and is most pundits’ bet to oppose Ms. Sinema for Senate. According to a tally of statewide and congressional races kept by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, so far more Democratic women than Republican ones are running for state and congressional seats in Arizona, but Republican women remain formidable in the state.

One early test of Republican strength may be the special election.

Ms. Tipirneni, in an echo of Democratic national strategy, is hoping to carve out support from independents and moderate Republicans through her embrace of health care and opposition to a school voucher plan Ms. Lesko backed.

But Ms. Lesko has several advantages: years in the state legislature; a district where far more Republicans voted in the primary than Democrats; and an electorate she says is majority pro-Trump, even as she has called on the president to address accusations of sexual improprieties. She also says her own history as an abused wife who mustered the courage to leave her first husband more than 25 years ago has resonated with other women.

For her part, Ms. Iyer is relishing her transition from suburban mother to legislative scourge. She posted her first newsletter on Facebook, reaching about 350 friends; now she posts it on a civic engagement site and estimates it reaches about 35,000 people. In the days after the presidential election, she discovered Arizona’s Request to Speak program, which allows a verified voter to register an opinion on a bill and ask to appear before the legislature. At first, she said, she noticed a lawmaker rolling his eyes and others texting under the table as she spoke.

But after the successful Save Our Schools petition drive and her attendance at statewide protests calling for teachers’ raises, she recounted a different attitude: “They know when we sit in their office that there are thousands more like us.”

Continue reading the main story