Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb’s triumph in Pennsylvania’s 18th District, which President Donald Trump won by about 20 percentage points in 2016, gave Democrats fresh hopes about their ability to compete in areas the president carried easily. The House election followed Democratic Sen. Doug Jones’ win in a special election in deep red Alabama last year.
But the dynamics in Tuesday’s Arizona race pose a more serious challenge for Democrats.
Trump won about 57 percent of the vote in the district during the 2016 election, compared with about 36 percent for Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to Cook Political Report. Franks won re-election that year with more than 68 percent of the vote.
Those figures bear some similarities to Pennsylvania’s 18th District: former Rep. Tim Murphy carried the district unopposed in 2016 while Trump won the area easily. However, the districts have at least one key difference: more voters are registered as Democrats in the Pennsylvania district than registered as Republicans. Arizona’s 8th District, on the other hand, has about 80,000 more registered Republicans than registered Democrats, according to nonpartisan elections site Sabato’s Crystal Ball.
The 150,000-plus early votes cast in the special election echo those divisions. Nearly half of the voters who have cast ballots in the district so far are registered Republicans, according to data from the state of Arizona. That compares with only about 28 percent registered as Democrats and roughly 23 percent registered as independents.
Of course, a Republican registration does not necessarily mean the voter casts a ballot for Lesko. Tipirneni would need independents and Republicans to vote Democratic to have any chance of winning.
But the voters so far have leaned older. The median age of the early voters is 67 years old, while the average age of voters is about 64 years old. Older voters tend to lean Republican.
The trends so far suggest a comfortable margin of victory for Lesko, according to Chuck Coughlin, president and CEO of Arizona-based consultancy firm HighGround. Even if Tipirneni outperforms the presidential results by 10 percentage points or more, which would be consistent with special elections since Trump won the White House, Lesko could win by a solid margin.
Of course, a Lesko win in a district Trump won by more than 20 percentage points is not necessarily bad news for Democrats. The party has dozens of chances to pick up districts either won by Clinton in 2016 or carried by Trump but with a tight margin of victory.