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Trump's clout faces test in Arizona congressional election Tuesday

According to the polls and insiders, Republican Debbie Lesko is leading over Democrat Hiral Tipirneni heading into Tuesday's election in Arizona's Eighth Congressional District, but not by much.

Debbie Lesko's supporters say "a win's a win."

But in Lesko's case, a win could be another warning for Republicans nationwide: President Trump's coattails are awfully short.

According to the polls and insiders, Lesko's lead over Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, a first-time candidate, is in the mid-single-digits heading into Tuesday's election in Arizona's Eighth Congressional District.

The polling numbers are stunning. Arizona's Eighth, including the West Valley communities of Peoria, Surprise, Goodyear, and Glendale is a deep red district:

  • Trump won it by 21 points in 2016 while taking Arizona by 3.5 points over Hillary Clinton.
  • Former Sheriff and now U.S. Senate candidate Joe Arpaio carried the district by 5 points in 2016 while losing countywide by 13 points. The 8th is home to Arpaio's base, in the iconic Sun City and surrounding retirement communities.
  • Republicans have a 21-point voting advantage over Democrats in mail-in ballots.
  • The area has sent a Republican to Congress for the last 40 years.
  • The last Democrat who won there - Bob Stump - switched to the Republican Party after about a year on the job.
  • The last Republican who won there - Trent Franks - served eight terms before abandoning the seat late last year amid a sexual harassment scandal.

Republicans Pour Cash Into Race

Franks' resignation is the reason there's a special election Tuesday - and might be one reason Lesko has struggled.

Republicans' concern is obvious: They've spent more than $1 million to keep a seat that was held for years by strategically putting up candidate signs at key intersections.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy have both held fund-raisers for Lesko, who's been out-raised by Tipirneni.

Trump pitched in with robocalls warning that "illegal immigrants will pour over your border" if Democrats win the House.

Lesko, however, has a large advantage in outside groups coming to her rescue. Democratic groups have largely stayed out of the race, a sign of little faith in Tipirneni's chances.

Focus on Traditional issues

The candidates separate themselves along familiar lines: Lesko, a longtime state legislator who represented part of CD8, is a pro-Trump, pro-tax cuts, border hardliner.

Tipirneni, a physician, has focused on health care and Social Security, key issues for a voting population whose average age is about 65.

The surprising issue has been Arizona's teacher rebellion - known by the hashtag #RedForEd - whose next phase is a statewide walkout planned for Thursday.

Republicans from the governor on down have been rattled by the movement, uncertain what it means for their own election prospects in November.

#RedForEd Makes Impact

Education and school funding in particular have emerged as top concerns for Arizona voters in recent years; Republican women in particular rate them highly. The Eighth District is home to several active teacher groups.

Democratic campaign insiders find it hard to believe the Arizona race will follow last month's Conor Lamb scenario: a Democrat flipping a Pennsylvania district that Trump won by 20 points.

Republicans there turned on Trump; GOP voters in Arizona might not be so persuadable.

Buy anything less than a 10-point win for Lesko would be seen a a victory for Democrats.

And there's another primary for the seat in just four months, at the end of August, with the election in November.

An estimated 75 percent of all ballots have already been cast by mail for Tuesday's vote.

Polls open at 6 a.m. Tuesday and close at 7 p.m.

First results will be released by about 8 p.m.