PHOENIX – Rep. Trent Frank’s resignation has touched off a scramble among 16 candidates vying to replace him, and analysts say Republicans are almost assured of continuing their three-decade grip on the Congressional District 8 seat.
Candidates had just more than a month to gather at least 665 signatures to compete in the special primary election, which was called last month when Franks abruptly resigned after the House Ethics Committee voted to investigate allegations he sexual harassed a staff member. District 8 covers a portion of the West Valley.
Fourteen candidates are running in the Republican primary on Feb. 27, including two write-in candidates who will not appear on the ballot.
In the Democratic primary, Hiral Tipirneni will face off against Brianna Westbrook.
Two more candidates, one Republican and one Democrat, originally filed to run but either dropped out of the race or were disqualified for a lack of petition signatures.
The special general election is April 24.
Analysts believe more Republicans are running than usual because the seat is all but guaranteed to go to the candidate who wins the primary.
“It’s expected because of the way it went about, because of the fact that it’s a special election,” said political consultant George Khalaf, who polled the district for Data Orbital just after Franks resigned. “If you are a member of that party, you are, more or less, assured victory. It’s essentially a primary battle in your party.”
But the number of business leaders and activists running for Congress in the election is surprisingly high, he said.
“That is a bit more abnormal,” Khalaf said. “There were a number of private citizen who got the signatures.”
The district, comprised of about 768,000 people, leans heavily Republican, said Mike Noble, lead pollster with OH Predictive Insights.
“It is an old demographic and that’s who votes in primaries,” he said. “They’re older and very conservative.”
Because most of the constituents in the district, which includes Sun City, Peoria and Surprise, are older than 65, Noble said immigration was the No. 1 issue among likely voters when his firm polled the district in December, adding that Social Security and veterans benefits also rank as high priorities.
CD 8 heavily favors GOP candidates. Of the 456,000 registered voters, Republicans outnumber Democrats by nearly 70,000.
“This is the Republicans to lose,” Khalaf said. “And a lot, a lot, a lot has to go wrong for the Republicans to lose.”
The last time the West Valley seat was held by a Democrat was in the early 1980s, until Rep. Bob Stump, Franks’ predecessor, changed his party affiliation to Republican in 1983.
“Historically, if you have all three (government) chambers of power, it goes against you,” Khalaf said. “They question is, how much is it (shifting)? A moderate cannot win that district. You can’t go farther right than he (Franks) is. Your other tactic is going moderate, but there aren’t enough moderate voters.”
Noble compared the district to the recent upset in Alabama, where Democrat Doug Jones beat Republican Roy Moore after sexual misconduct allegations against Moore were raised.
“That district is very similar to Alabama,” he said. “The only difference is that whoever wins the primary is not going to have the baggage of Roy Moore.”
One of the potential advantages for candidates who have already held office is that they are able to raise more money in the limited timeframe before the primary, Noble said.
“You base it on fundraising ability,” he said. “People who have won before, people who have been elected by voters.”
Five of the candidates, all Republicans, have previous legislative experience. Former Arizona State Sen. Debbie Lesko, who resigned to run for Franks’ seat, gathered 3,000 signatures to get her name on the ballot.
Former State Sen. Steve Montenegro, former State Rep. Phil Lovas, former Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump – who is no relation to the former CD 8 congressman – and former Graham County Sheriff Richard Mack also are running.
Stump, Lesko and Montenegro appear to be the frontrunners in the limited polling done to date.
Early polls conducted by Noble’s firm, OH Predictive Insights and Phoenix television station ABC15 give a slight edge to Stump, while a survey from polling firm Data Orbital, conducted by Khalaf, has Debbie Lesko leading the polls, with Stump in second.
Montenegro said he joined the race specifically because Franks asked him to run, and he has received the endorsement of other well known Republicans, including Rick Santorum and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
And if a Republican wins the seat as expected, that person will likely stay in office for some time, Noble said.
“The theory is: you win the primary, you win the general,” he said. “You’re in as long as you want, unless you screw up.”
Early voting for the special primary began Jan. 31.
Here are the 16 candidates who filed to run for the seat:
Chad Allen (R): Allen is a businessman from Goodyear who sold specialized surgical equipment to hospitals. He has never held elected office but says Washington needs an outsider. He supports term limits for members of Congress and cutting federal spending to balance the budget. (Photo: Arizona Secretary of State’s Office)
Brenden Dilley (R): The author and talk-show host supports President Donald Trump’s agenda, referencing the president’s proposed border wall on his campaign website. But Dilley largely focused on education reform as a major issue facing Arizona. (Photo: Arizona Secretary of State’s Office)
Stephen Dolgos (R): Doglos, a Navy veteran, has never held political office. His campaign is focused on economic conservatism, calling for lower taxes and minimal regulation of the private sector. (Photo: Arizona Secretary of State’s Office)
Debbie Lesko (R): After serving in the Arizona House for two terms, Lesko ran for State Senate in 2012, winning the District 21 seat. She resigned in January to run for the U.S House seat. Her House campaign promises stronger border security – without promising a wall – and removing the federal government from education decisions. (Photo: Arizona Secretary of State’s Office)
David Lien (R): Lien, a former city council member in Minnesota, is campaigning on a conservative platform that emphasizes pro-life beliefs, adherence to the Second Amendment and immigration reform. (Photo: Arizona Secretary of State’s Office)
Steve Montenegro (R): The former Arizona House majority leader, Montenegro won a State Senate seat in 2017 but resigned in December to enter this race. His campaign is focused on immigration reform and repealing President Barack Obama’s signature health care act. (Photo: Arizona Secretary of State’s Office)
Phil Lovas (R): First elected to the Arizona House in 2012, Lovas was chairman of the Rules and Insurance committees and served on several others. He resigned that seat to run in CD 8. He supports term limits for elected officials and an end to pensions for members of Congress. (Photo: Arizona Secretary of State’s Office)
Richard Mack (R): A former sheriff, Mack successfully sued the federal government in 1994, arguing that deputies should not be required to perform federal background checks on gun buyers. He is a Tea Party activist whose platform emphasizes states rights and a strict interpretation of the Constitution. (Photo: Arizona Secretary of State’s Office)
Bob Stump (R): Stump is one of the five candidates who has held elected office, serving in the Arizona House for six years and as the Arizona corporation commissioner from 2015 until he stepped down to run for the CD 8 seat in January. He is campaigning on a platform of increased national security spending and lowering energy regulation. (Photo: Arizona Secretary of State’s Office)
Patrick Masoya (R): Masoya is an international consultant and human rights advocate from Scottsdale. One of two write-in candidates who filed paperwork with the Secretary of State, his name will not appear on the ballot. (Photo: Arizona Secretary of State’s Office)
Christopher Sylvester (R): The Navy veteran is campaigning as a moderate Republican. He believes Trump’s border wall is a “false sense of security” and opposes Arizona education funds being diverted to charter schools. He is campaigning on a platform of a balanced federal budget and states rights. (Photo: Arizona Secretary of State’s Office)
Blake Taylor (R): No information was available for Taylor, the other write-in candidate. His name will not appear on the ballot. (Photo: Arizona Secretary of State’s Office)
Hiral Tipirneni (D): Tipirneni has been an emergency room physician in Phoenix for more than 20 years. She immigrated to the U.S. with her family from India when she was 3, and served on the board of directors for the Maricopa Health Foundation. She is campaigning to expand Medicare and simplify the federal tax code. (Photo: Arizona Secretary of State’s Office)
Clair Van Steenwyk (R): Van Steenwyk is a former businessman who first came into the public eye in 2004 with a political talk show on AM radio. He wants Congress to return federally owned land to the states and promised to call on the Arizona Legislature to restructure the state tax code. (Photo: Arizona Secretary of State’s Office)
Brianna Westbrook (D): The political activist first stepped onto the political scene in 2013, when she urged the Phoenix City Council to support a measure that included protections for LGBT and disabled people in city contracts. The transgender candidate is focusing her platform on LGBT protections and support for a clean DREAM Act. (Photo: Arizona Secretary of State’s Office)
Mark Yates (R): Yates is a business owner with more than 20 years leading small to midsize companies. A political novice, he is campaigning for a fiscal policy that promotes marriage and families, as well as local control of school policy. He opposes any immigration policy that allows citizenship for undocumented immigrants. (Photo: Arizona Secretary of State’s Office)