Republicans freak out after narrow win in deep red Arizona

Republican U.S. Congressional candidate Debbie Lesko, right, celebrates her win with former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer at her home, Tuesday, April 24, 2018, in Peoria, Ariz. Lesko ran against Democratic candidate Hiral Tipirneni for Arizona's 8th Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Arizona. (Matt York/AP Photo)

Republican U.S. Congressional candidate Debbie Lesko, right, celebrates her win with former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer at her home, Tuesday, April 24, 2018, in Peoria, Ariz. Lesko ran against Democratic candidate Hiral Tipirneni for Arizona's 8th Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Arizona. (Matt York/AP Photo)

Republicans notched a victory Tuesday night in a special House election. They should be happy, right?

Well, they’re not. Party pollster Mike Noble parsed the results in the scarlet-red Arizona district and said, “Republicans shouldn’t be hitting the alarm, they should be slamming it.”

Hugh Hewitt, the pro-Republican commentator, read the tea leaves and said, “It’s smash-the-glass, sound-the-alarm time.”

The only person who seemed bullish about Arizona was Donald Trump. In a tweet yesterday, he congratulated Debbie Lesko on her “big win” and somehow got it into his head that the press was covering up the results. In his delusional words, “Press is so silent.”

In truth, the Arizona election has earned saturation coverage, because it’s further evidence that a blue wave could drown Republicans in the congressional midterms. It was not a “big” win. It was a pitifully anemic win in a white conservative senior-heavy suburban Phoenix district where Democrats have typically been viewed as an endangered species. If House Republicans can’t win huge inside their normally reliable bubble, what does that portend for November — when they’ll be forced to defend their fragile House majority in scores of hotly competitive districts?

The 8th Arizona district had long been represented by family-values conservative Trent Franks, but he quit his seat last winter after he was outed for behaving in a pervy way with female staffers. Hence the special election. For Debbie Lesko, a former state senator with decent name ID, running against political newbie and Indian immigrant Hiral Tipirneni, the contest should’ve been a slam-dunk landslide.

This district — the stomping ground of infamous Sheriff Joe Apraio — is so red that Democrats didn’t even bother to field House candidates in 2014 or 2016. The district is so red that Republican registrants outnumber Democrats by nearly 2-1. The district is so red that, in presidential voting, it chose Mitt Romney over Barack Obama by 25 points, and Trump over Hillary Clinton by 21 points. The district is so red that even though Democrats actually ran a House candidate for the special election, the national party gave Tipirneni a grand total of zero dollars.

By contrast, the national GOP ponied up $1 million for Lesko, even though, on paper, it shouldn’t have needed to give her a dime. But it was hoping to ensure that Lesko would win by a double-digit margin, and many Republicans warned that a low single-digit win would be a disaster.

Lesko won by 4.8 percent.

No wonder Republicans are freaked out.

Yesterday, House GOP leaders held a closed-door meeting to warn members that the Arizona election was fresh evidence that even their normally safe districts are in jeopardy; majority leader Kevin McCarthy reportedly told them, “You need to understand what’s happening.” Arizona Republican consultant Chuck Coughlin told the Associated Press, “There’s a drag on the midterms for Republican candidates that’s being created by the national narrative. And it would be very hard to buck that trend if you’re in swing districts, much less close districts, if you can’t change that narrative between now and November.”

The “national narrative,” of course, is that Trump is a disaster, and that the most energized voters are stoked to make him — and his party — pay dearly. And according to the respected stat-cruncher David Wasserman, 147 House districts are more competitive for Democrats than suburban Phoenix. To win control of the House, they need to flip only 23. And care to guess how many Republicans currently hold seats in districts won by Hillary Clinton? 23.

Nothing is guaranteed, of course. Perhaps Democrats will obsess too much about impeachment and fail to craft an upbeat message about jobs and the economy. Perhaps Republicans will somehow manage to sell their loser tax-cut bill as some kind of boon to the average Joe. Perhaps Trump will drive enough of his base to the voting booth and save a sufficient number of safe seats to keep the House red.

On the other hand, the Trump regime is the gift that keeps giving.

In a speech Tuesday to a group of bankers, Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney strolled down memory lane to talk about his previous career as a conservative congressman. Here’s what he said: “We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress. If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”

Maybe that stock-the-swamp whopper won’t help Democrats flip a red enclave like Arizona’s 8th. But if they retail that remark for mass voter consumption, it could help them elsewhere on the expanding national map. Thanks, Mick!

Meanwhile, we learned last night that Michael Cohen intends to plead the Fifth Amendment in the Stormy Daniels case.

Every American has that constitutional right, and invoking it should not be construed as an admission of guilt. On the other hand, some people abhor that tactic. For instance, this guy in 2016: “The mob takes the Fifth Amendment. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment? … I think it is disgraceful.”

Oh wait, that was Trump.

Ronny Jackson, Trump’s joke candidate to helm the VA, has pulled the plug. Gee, what a surprise. Who’s next, this guy?

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