Photo Gallery Ex-state senator wins GOP primary in race for US House

Ex-state senator wins GOP primary in race for US House

Republican candidate and former Arizona state Sen. Debbie Lesko celebrates with her husband, Joe, after voting results show her victory in a special primary election for the Congressional District 8 seat during a campaign party at Lesko’s home, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. A special primary election was being held to replace Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks who resigned amid accusations of sexual misconduct.

Democratic candidate Hiral Tipirneni, center, celebrates with supporters and family members after voting results show her victory in a special primary election for the Congressional District 8 seat during a campaign party on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018 in Glendale, Ariz. A special primary election was being held to replace Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks who resigned amid accusations of sexual misconduct.
Arizona state Sen. Debbie Lesko speaks in the Senate chambers in Phoenix. Two former Republican Arizona lawmakers who are leading candidates to fill a vacant U.S. House seat are embroiled in controversy as Tuesday’s special primary election looms. Former state Sen. Debbie Lesko is under fire for transferring $50,000 from her old state Senate campaign fund to an independent group backing her congressional election bid. Former state Sen. Steve Montenegro reportedly received racy text messages from a Senate staffer who isn’t his wife.
Arizona House Majority Leader Steve Montenegro, R-Avondale, speaks during a legislative session at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. A special election to replace a Republican congressman from Arizona who resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations has turned into a slugfest among GOP candidates hoping to fill former U.S. Rep. Trent Franks’ seat. The contest includes admissions by Montenegro, that he received sex-tinged messages from a state Senate staffer and accusations former state Sen. Debbie Lesko improperly tapped her state campaign funds to support her effort.
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz. speaks with a reporter on Capitol Hill in Washington, as the House nears a vote on their health care overhaul. Thirteen Republicans and three Democrats filed enough signatures to make the ballot for a special primary election to replace former U.S. Rep. Franks, state elections officials said.
Nevada voter Water King, a 69-year-old retiree from Seattle who now lives in Sun City, and his dog Stuart sits in his golf cart outside a supermarket in Sun City, Ariz., Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. Sex and campaign funding scandals involving candidates have captured much of the attention in the Republican primary to replace a U.S. congressman from Arizona who quit amid charges of sexual misconduct last year. King said he voted by mail-in ballot for the election on Tuesday, Feb. 27.
Dion Munoz, a 70-year-old retired aircraft mechanic from Long Island, N.Y., now living in Sun City, Ariz., talks about the 8th congressional district contest to replace Rep. Trent Franks, who resigned after acknowledging he had discussed surrogacy with two female staffers. Allegations of impropriety against the top candidates were on voters’ minds. Munoz said he voted for former state Sen. Debbie Lesko via mail-in ballot because “I didn’t get good vibes about (former state Sen. Steve) Montenegro.
Candidate Hiral Tipirneni, one of two Democrats running in the 8th Congressional District’s special election on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, to replace former Rep. Trent Franks, in Arizona. The leading Republicans among a dozen candidates in the GOP stronghold 8th Congressional District that covers much of the western Phoenix suburbs include two former state senators, two former state House members and a talk radio host who pulled in 29 percent of the vote in a 2016 primary challenge to Franks. Two Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination, hoping to pull out a longshot win in the April 27 general election.
Hiral Tipirneni, one of two Democrats running in the 8th Congressional District’s special election on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, to replace former Rep. Trent Franks, in Arizona. The leading Republicans among a dozen candidates in the GOP stronghold 8th Congressional District that covers much of the western Phoenix suburbs include two former state senators, two former state House members and a talk radio host who pulled in 29 percent of the vote in a 2016 primary challenge to Franks. Two Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination, hoping to pull out a longshot win in the April 27 general election.
Campaign signs promote a variety of candidates for the special election for the open the 8th congressional district contest to replace Republican Rep. Trent Franks, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, in Goodyear, Ariz.
Republican candidate and former Arizona state Sen. Debbie Lesko, right, celebrates with former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer after election results were announced for the Congressional District 8 seat during a campaign party at Lesko’s home, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. A special primary election was being held to replace Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks who resigned amid accusations of sexual misconduct.
Republican candidate and former Arizona state Sen. Debbie Lesko, right, celebrates with former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer after election results were announced for the Congressional District 8 seat during a campaign party at Lesko’s home, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. A special primary election was being held to replace Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks who resigned amid accusations of sexual misconduct.
Democratic candidate Hiral Tipirneni, center right, celebrates with supporters and family members after voting results show her victory in a special primary election for the Congressional District 8 seat during a campaign party, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. A special primary election was being held to replace Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks who resigned amid accusations of sexual misconduct.

A former Arizona state senator easily outpaced another candidate embroiled in a sexting scandal and 10 other Republicans to win Tuesday’s primary to replace a U.S. congressman who quit amid charges of sexual misconduct.

Former state Sen. Debbie Lesko becomes the immediate favorite in the heavily Republican 8th Congressional District to replace former U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, also a Republican.

Franks, who held the House seat since 2003, acknowledged he had discussed surrogacy with two female staffers. A former aide told The Associated Press that he pressed her to carry his child as a surrogate and offered her $5 million. He resigned in December.

Lesko will face Democratic nominee Hiral Tipirneni, a political newcomer, in an April 24 special election to represent the western Phoenix suburbs.

The race had thought to have been a close one between Lesko and former state Sen. Steve Montenegro, a tea party favorite backed by Franks. But Montenegro acknowledged last week that a former Senate aide had sent him an unsolicited topless photo in a text. The married Christian minister said he became too close to the woman, but “never had inappropriate relationship with her or anyone else.” She said she sent him multiple photos and they “engaged in sexual conversations about those pictures.”

Corinne Clark, a retail worker from Surprise, Arizona, said she regretted casting her ballot for Montenegro in early voting, before the allegations about him surfaced.

“Whether it’s true or not is hard to know,” Clark said. “But my number one reason for voting for him was because he has Christian values, and it makes me mad that this has come up afterward.”

In the last week of the election, allegations also surfaced against Lesko concerning campaign finance irregularities.

Lesko denied that transferring $50,000 from her state campaign fund was illegal. She sent the money to an independent group that spent the cash backing her congressional bid.

Most Arizona voters vote by mail-in ballots, many of which were sent before news broke concerning Montenegro’s sexting scandal and Lesko’s campaign finance irregularities.

Lesko had 36 percent of the vote while Montenegro had only 24 percent, early returns showed.

“Wow!” Lesko exclaimed when one of her campaign workers told her that Montenegro was conceding. “I’m so excited because it looks like I’m winning tonight.”

“I’m very grateful to everyone who has helped me on this campaign and now I’m looking forward to the general election and then getting to Washington to get things done for the people in my district,” Lesko added, grinning broadly in a brief interview at an election night gathering in the backyard of her Peoria home.

Lesko had support from popular former Gov. Jan Brewer and a host of local mayors and city council members. She helped drive the state’s landmark school voucher program and is touting her border security plan.

The Democratic nominee faces an uphill battle in a district where Republicans dominate. Early primary ballots broke down about 2 to 1 in favor of Republicans.

Walter King, a 69-year-old retiree from Seattle who now lives in Sun City, said he voted for Tipirneni by mail-in ballot, but didn’t expect her to win in April.

“I like to think the state is slowly turning purple,” King said Monday as he sat in his golf cart, a common form of area transportation, with his French bulldog mix Stuart. “But it’s still mostly red.”

Tipirneni said despite the heavy Republican advantage in the district, she sees a path to victory.

“We’ve seen Democratic performance shoot up by huge numbers all across this country,” she said. “East coast, in red areas like Oklahoma and Alabama, we see Democratic engagement and momentum and energy, and there’s no reason that Arizona can’t be next.”

Snow reported from Peoria, Sun City and Goodyear, Arizona.