Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko announced her retirement on Tuesday evening after a fairly short career representing Arizona's 8th District, saying in a statement that "Washington, D.C. is broken; it is hard to get anything done." Lesko's district, which is based in the suburbs west of Phoenix, is solidly red turf that voted for Donald Trump by a 56-43 margin, so the action to succeed the congresswoman will likely center on next year's GOP primary.
But that wasn't quite the case for Lesko when she first sought to join the House in a 2018 special election, following GOP Rep. Trent Franks' resignation in a shocking sexual harassment scandal after he pushed a pair of aides to serve as surrogate mothers. Lesko, a state senator at the time, defeated 11 other candidates to secure the Republican nomination, beating her nearest opponent by a 35-24 margin in a bizarre primary. But the prior version of the 8th was just as conservative as its current iteration, so the general election should have been a foregone conclusion.
However, special elections during the early years of Trump's presidency had seen turbocharged enthusiasm for Democratic candidates, and Lesko's race was similarly affected. Physician Hiral Tipirneni capitalized on that energy and nervous Republicans spent more than $1 million to avoid getting humiliated. It was a wise move: Tipirneni held Lesko to a narrow 52-48 win, a result far closer than the district's normal lean. But the closeness of that victory pointed to serious dangers for the GOP, which were realized during the midterm wave that saw Democrats pick up 40 seats that fall.
Lesko, though, was not swept up by that tsunami. She defeated Tipirneni 55-45 in a November rematch and held her seat without issue in the subsequent two elections (she was unopposed last year). In Congress, Lesko joined the far-right Freedom Caucus and consistently supported her party's most extreme positions, which included voting to overturn the results of the 2020 election.