PEORIA, AZ – It’s a fight to represent the West Valley in Washington, D.C. — both Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko and her opponent, Democrat Hiral Tipirneni are moms, both are in this race to be an advocate for people in their communities, but that’s where the similarities end.
In an interview with ABC15 Arizona Wednesday, Lesko described herself as a pragmatic conservative in what has been a Republican stronghold for more than 20 years.
“I think the reason that I’m the best candidate for Congressional District 8 is because I really fit the district,” said Lesko.
Dr. Tipirneni, a political newcomer, said it was time for change.
“I really want to be an advocate for the district. It really hasn’t had a chance to have true representation in a long time, ” said Tipirneni.
The political ads from both sides have been vicious. Lesko’s supporters have put out ads calling Tipirneni a “fake doctor,” saying she has not practiced medicine in years. While ads from Tipirneni’s supporters call Lesko a politician who “won’t clean up Washington. She’s just more of the same.”
Both women took the attacks personally.
Tipirneni explained that the reason she stopped practicing medicine was a personal one. After losing her mother and nephew to cancer 11 years ago, she found herself on the other side of the hospital bed and has devoted her life to cancer research advocacy for the last decade.
As a result, affordable healthcare was number one on her agenda. It’s what most residents she spoke to expressed concerns about.
“Health care, health care, health care. Premiums are going up. Arizona really struggles in this area. These are very real concerns for families. There are families all around our district that are every day losing coverage, falling off their plans or they’re under-insured,” said Tipirneni.
Her goal was to fight for those families and give them peace of mind and dignity at tough times.
“Look, I’ve been on the front lines. I’ve been in the emergency department setting. It is heart-wrenching decisions they have to make, whether they can seek medical care for their family or put food on the table. That should not happen in this country.”
For Lesko, who has been working in Washington, D.C since she won the special election in April, immigration and border security issues were on top of the agenda. She said she had just visited the Arizona-Mexico border last week.
“We really need to secure our border because drugs are flowing into our communities and people really want to know who’s crossing the border.”
Lesko said in the last six months, since she has been in Washington, D.C. filling former congressman Trent Frank’s seat, she has already introduced several key pieces of legislation addressing border security, and the protection of social security and Medicare for future generations.
“When my opponent sits there and tells the voters that I am going to try and take away social security and Medicare, it’s blatantly false,” said Lesko.
Political analyst Mike O’Neil said this was going to be a race to watch, because of the narrow margin of victory during the special election.
“Republicans have typically not had a serious opponent in this seat because no traditional Democrat who has a career in mind is going to run for that seat because it’s suicide. The Republican always wins in that district.”
Despite Lesko’s win, O’Neil said what everyone was talking about after the polls closed was how close the Democrats came to securing the seat.
“Hiral Tipirneni had no prior experience. Regardless of her bio, everybody looked at that and thought that’s a safe Republican seat. Then she comes within 5 percentage points of winning and everybody, every on-looker was absolutely astounded,” said O’Neil.
He added, now the question would be whether she would be able to secure that last five percent to win the race.
“If I have the honor of being elected, I will be fighting for the voices of those folks who didn’t vote for me as well. I truly believe that we are committed to being a voice for this district that hasn’t had a voice in a long time,” said Tipirneni.
Lesko said she was not worried about the margin of victory in the special election.
“If you look back at history, most special elections are closer than normal elections because it’s the only thing going in town,” said Lesko.
O’Neil added that a high voter turnout from the Democrats may have also helped Tipirneni close the gap. He predicted it may be another close race in November, where voter turnout would make all the difference.