Another once-safe Republican seat is suddenly competitive. And Republicans should be terrified.
This week, the political world was startled by a poll showing Democratic emergency physician Hiral Tipirneni had a margin-of-error 46 to 45 lead over former Republican state Sen. Debbie Lesko, in the special election for Arizona's 8th Congressional District.
But lest anyone dismiss it as an outlier, a second poll released Thursday evening also showed the deep red suburban Phoenix district is indeed neck and neck. And there are some serious red flags for Republicans in the results.
According to the Lake Research Partners poll, commissioned by the Tipirneni campaign, the candidates are tied 44 to 44 among likely voters — and 46 to 46 among people who have already voted early.
The poll finds voters view Tipirneni favorably by 18 points and Lesko unfavorably by 2 points. It also finds Democrats are much more motivated to vote.
Most astonishingly, the poll shows 13 percent of Republican early voters so far have defected for Tipirneni. For context, only 8 percent of Republicans in Alabama crossed over to vote for Democrat Doug Jones in the Senate race last year, and that was enough for him to win.
Two months ago, these numbers would have been unthinkable. Election forecasters initially rated this district Solid Republican, and for good reason. Trump carried it by 21 points, and the Republican who previously held the seat, Trent Franks, consistently won his last 7 elections by enormous margins until he resigned last year over a sexual harassment scandal.
But as Tipirneni has amassed support and fundraising on a platform of universal health care and progressive reform, and as Lesko has stumbled in debates and bogged herself down in campaign finance scandals, Republicans fear this race could go the same way as Pennsylvania's 18th District. And they are spending like crazy to stave it off.
Lately, Arizona is one big headache for Republicans. Another new poll shows Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema walloping all three Republican candidates for Senate. Meanwhile, Republicans in the legislature are frantically trying to rewrite state law to avoid another special election if Sen. John McCain's seat becomes vacant.
With the special election for Arizona's 8th scheduled for next Tuesday, Republicans will scramble to save the race that should never have been a race. The question now is whether Democratic enthusiasm can pull off yet another upset.