The Daily Kos Elections guide to watching the special election for Arizona's 8th District
The latest House special election on April 24, between Democrat Hiral Tipirneni and Republican Debbie Lesko, is in Arizona’s 8th congressional district, located in the western suburbs of Phoenix; polls close at 7 pm local time (or 10 pm Eastern). A satellite photo (as seen above) is maybe the best way to get a feel for the district; it’s not so much a city that evolved organically over the centuries as it's a collection of residential subdivisions quickly dropped in an orderly yet indecipherable fashion on an inhospitable landscape that, geologically and meteorologically, really shouldn’t have anything on it at all. In fact, it might make sense if you thought aliens rather than suburban developers were responsible for its existence; the stark relief of the golf courses snaking through the odd geometric shapes on a parched landscape are more than a little reminiscent of the Nazca Lines in Peru.
While Arizona’s 8th is a very conservative district (it went 37 percent for Hillary Clinton and 58 percent for Donald Trump in 2016, little changed from 37 percent for Barack Obama and 62 percent for Mitt Romney in 2012), it isn’t what you’d think of as a district that’s “ancestrally Republican”—or “ancestrally Democratic,” like we saw in the recent pickup in Pennsylvania’s 18th district. It’s more like it’s ancestrally nothing, with almost no one being here at all, say, 40 years ago. (One of the main municipalities in AZ-08, the city of Surprise, Arizona, is a case in point. It currently has an estimated population of 133,000. In 2010, the population was 118,000. In 2000, the population was 31,000. And in 1990, the population was 7,000!)
Like some similar districts in Florida’s suburbs that were empty a generation ago and are now filled with retirees from other parts of the country, it’s conservative partly by default, in that there was no already-existing political culture for the new arrivals to assimilate into. What we’ll be looking for tonight is how much new political currents—running in very much the opposite direction of what we saw during the Obama years, as we’ve seen in the last year’s worth of special elections in red territory—can overcome this district’s dark-red—but not particularly baked-in—baseline. With polls showing either a nearly tied race or a Lesko lead in the single digits, we’re seeing signs of a clear swing toward the Democrats here too, though it still seems like a long shot as to whether it’s large enough to get Tipirneni over the top.
Usually, in one of my previews of a special election, one of the prominent parts of the story would be county-level benchmarks. Unfortunately, there’s no basis for that kind of analysis in Arizona’s 8th district; it’s found entirely within Maricopa County, which is not only Arizona’s most populous county (3.7 million people live here, more than half of Arizona’s total population) but one of the most populous counties in the nation; four other congressional districts fit entirely within its borders. This means that, if you’re following along with results that are conventionally presented by, say, the Associated Press or Politico, there won’t be any geographic differentiation of the results at all, and there will be no way to know whether the precincts that have reported so far are representative of the district as a whole.