GOP Debbie Lesko wins CD 8 Special Election, per AP

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

Republican candidate Debbie Lesko has beat her Democratic opponent Hiral Tipirneni in the special election for Arizona's 8th Congressional District.

[GO TO: Election results from Secretary of State's Office]

"This is really something! I'm going to be a congresswoman!" Lesko exclaimed at her victory party in Peoria. "I won! This is awesome!"

She thanked her family and voters.

"I want to promise you to continue to work hard for the people in my district and to continue to represent you with the values that make our country great," said Lesko.

Lesko also greeted supporters and looked back in wonder.

“I’ve really come a long way and this is really quite overwhelming, it’s very surreal,” she said. “Twenty-five years ago I left an abusive husband and I sure as heck never would have dreamt in a million years that I would be running for Congress to be a congresswoman. I mean, that’s right, now I’m actually running for Congress, I won!”

[RAW VIDEO: 'I'm going to be a congresswoman!' Debbie Lesko jubilant after CD 8 win]

Lesko has 53 percent of the vote while Tipirneni has 47 percent in the early counting, according to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office. Lesko received 82,294 votes so far while Tipirneni received 73,188, the office said.

The Associated Press called the election after state officials released tallies of more than 155,000 mail-in ballots, which represent about 75 percent of the votes expected.

Tipirneni is an emergency room physician and a cancer research advocate, while Lesko served in the state Senate until recently, representing parts of Arizona's 8th Congressional District since 2009.

[READ MORE: Why the electoral battlefield is expanding in Arizona]
 
They were competing to fill out the term of former Rep. Trent Franks, who resigned in December amid sexual misconduct allegations.

President Donald Trump took the district by 21 points and Lesko agrees with Trump on a lot of his policies, from immigration to taxes to the Second Amendment.

Republican political consultant Chuck Coughlin called the margin “not good” for national Republicans looking at their chances in November.

“They should clean house in this election,” said Coughlin, longtime adviser to former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. “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.”

[RELATED: What to watch: Arizona special election]

Lesko was the odds-on favorite to win the seat but it's been a tougher campaign than most had imagined. National GOP groups have spent big money to back Lesko, which usually doesn't happen in this Republican stronghold.

There are approximately 78,000 more Republican registered voters than Democrats in the district. Among those who have voted early, 49 percent are Republicans to 28 percent who are Democrats.

[RELATED: Democrat looks for upset in strong GOP district in Arizona]

Tipirneni hoped to continue the so-called "Blue Wave" where Democrats saw upsets in Alabama and Pennsylvania. National Democratic groups haven't committed money to ads in the race, but in recent weeks, some progressive groups have been spending to back Tipirneni, and she has been running non-stop TV ads in the last week of the election.

After The Associated Press announced the winner, Tipirneni spoke about the moral victory in running in a such a Republican district at her campaign rally in Glendale that 

"CD 8 was kind of forgotten. It was neglected. It was assumed it was a done deal and really didn't need different representation. But I would say those folks were very wrong," she said.

She said she wasn’t shocked to see her close to Lesko, despite the big GOP advantage in the district, saying people were ready for a change.

“We weren’t surprised, we’re not surprised,” Tipirneni said. “And we’re still waiting to see the rest of the votes. We’re not conceding. We’re still waiting for votes to be counted -- so this isn’t over.”

She never conceded and said in a statement the race is too close to call.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Arizona politics]

Lesko won, according to The Associated Press, but still has to run again in November.

Tipirneni said she is "absolutely" running in November.

The 8th Congressional District sprawls across western Phoenix suburbs, covering some of the most conservative areas of the red state, including the retirement community of Sun City. 

Below is a statement from Tipirneni's campaign.

“I started this campaign with the goal of offering West Valley families a clear alternative to the status quo because I believe the people of this district deserve a representative who will fight for them. For me, this campaign has been about the issues that touch the lives of people in this district every day. I will continue fighting for quality, affordable healthcare, protecting retirement security, ensuring that our public schools and teachers get the funding and pay they deserve, among others.

In a seat that President Trump won by more than 20 points and outside groups spent more than a million dollars to try and silence us, tonight we showed them that Arizona’s West Valley has something to say. It’s because the hard work of my staff, volunteers and supporters that the race is still too close to call. Regardless of the outcome, we are taking this to November.”


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