Republicans declared victory on Wednesday in a special Arizona election for a vacated U.S. House of Representatives seat after a tight race that could nonetheless bolster Democratic momentum heading into November’s midterm vote.
Multiple news networks called the race for Republican Debbie Lesko over Democratic candidate Hiral Tipirneni, a former emergency room doctor. Lesko is a former Arizona state senator who left the legislature in January.
“I want to promise you that I am going to continue to work hard for the people of my district and continue to represent you with the values that have continued to make our nation great,” Lesko told her supporters in a speech on Tuesday night.
The race was the latest of several closely watched special elections ahead of November’s midterm elections, when Democrats hope to claw back control of the lower house of Congress.
The party must pick up 23 seats nationally to reclaim control of the House and two seats to regain a majority in the Senate.
In recent races, Democrats have been buoyed with outright wins in Republican strongholds, including Conor Lamb’s victory last month in a conservative corner of Pennsylvania, and loses by smaller-than-expected margins in other races.
Lesko had a lead of 5 percentage points over Tipirneni, according to the latest results posted by the Arizona secretary of state, much closer than the 21-point margin that U.S. President Donald Trump commanded in the district in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump, a fellow Republican, praised her “big win” in a message on Twitter.
“Debbie will do a Great Job!” he wrote before adding a dig at the media, which he perceives as having a liberal bias. “Press is so silent.”
Tipirneni said on Twitter that she was still waiting for the results of the election, held to replace U.S. Representative Trent Franks, a Republican, in Arizona’s 8th district.
“Whatever happens tonight or tomorrow, we’re not giving up. Regardless of the outcome, we’re taking this to November,” she said.
Democrats launched a last-minute blitz to try to pull off a win, hoping to replicate strong performances by the party in Pennsylvania and Alabama, partly fueled by opposition to Trump.
Franks, in office since 2003, resigned on Dec. 8 amid allegations that he made improper advances to female staff and that he offered a female staff member $5 million to be a surrogate to bear a child for him and his wife. He denied any wrongdoing.
Lesko has said she supports Trump’s proposal for a border wall between the United States and Mexico, tightened border security and tax cuts. She opposes abortion and is a staunch gun-rights advocate.
Tipirneni largely focused her campaign on the need to improve healthcare for all consumers, including pushing to expand Medicare by allowing anyone to buy into the system. She opposes building of a wall.
Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Frank McGurty and Steve Orlofsky