Hiral Tipirneni conceded on Wednesday morning that Debbie Lesko won last night's special election in Congressional District 8, but the narrow margin of victory has Democrats feeling good about their chances for November.
"Now that nearly all of the votes have been counted, we know that the special election goes to our
opponent," the Glendale Democrat wrote in a statement issued this morning. "I congratulate Debbie Lesko on a hard-fought campaign, and wish her good luck in Congress."
Tipirneni had declined to concede last night, saying that she was still waiting for Election Day votes to be counted. She's already begun collecting signatures for a rematch.
"Regardless of the outcome, we're taking this to November," she tweeted about an hour after the Associated Press called the race for Lesko.
The most recent results from the Arizona Secretary of State's Office show that Lesko received 52.6 percent of the vote, leading Tipirneni by just 5 percentage points and 9,072 votes.
That's a surprisingly poor showing for a district that's much more conservative than the rest of the state, and it's got Democrats feeling confident that they can take back the governor's office in November. And maybe Jeff Flake's Senate seat, too.
“In a ruby red district that is significantly more Republican than the state as a whole, Dr. Hiral Tipirneni’s strong showing proves that Democrats will be competitive in races across Arizona this fall," Felecia Rotellini, the chairwoman of the Arizona Democratic Party, wrote in a prepared statement.
“The Arizona GOP should be panicking right now," said Josselyn Berry, the director of ProgressNow Arizona, adding that Tipirneni's strong showing "speaks volumes about what we can expect to see in November."
Matthew Benson, a Republican strategist and former aide to Governor Jan Brewer, disputed the claim that Republicans were panicking.
But, he said, "Any Republican who’s not paying attention to the CD8 results needs to wake up. The light should be blinking red at this point."
Why did Tipirneni perform so well in a district that she wasn't supposed to have any chance of winning?
"There are multiple factors here, but the biggest has got to be a Democratic electorate that is energized, and that there have to be a lot of independent and soft Republican voters who are sending a message at the ballot box," Benson theorized.
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In particular, he said, many of those voters were reacting to President Donald Trump, and expressing general disenchantment with the state of the country's leadership.
Another factor that Benson didn't mention: Lesko has been criticized by some education advocates for introducing a controversial school voucher program, and has been critical of the upcoming teacher strike. That may have motivated #RedForEd activists to rally behind her opponent.
While Benson acknowledged that "it doesn’t bode well for Republicans in November that they’re having what amounts to a squeaker in a far-right district," he also pointed out that the narrow victory comes with a silver lining.
"The good news is that this special election provides an early warning to Republicans," he said. "We wouldn’t ordinarily have this warning. Any legislators who think they’re in safe districts and they’re sleepwalking through the fall, this CD8 race should serve as a wake-up call. I think there's value in that, and there's time to turn things around."