February 27, 2018 / 12:57 PM / 24 days ago

Republicans to pick candidate for vacant Arizona U.S. House seat

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Voters in Arizona go to the polls on Tuesday in a crowded special Republican primary to pick the likely replacement for a former U.S. representative who resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations.

FILE PHOTO: Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) arrives ahead of FBI Director Christopher Wray testifying before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo

A dozen candidates are vying for the Phoenix-area House of Representatives seat vacated by Republican Trent Franks in December after he said two female staffers complained he had discussed with them his efforts to find a surrogate mother to bear his child. He denied any wrongdoing.

Former state Senators Steve Montenegro and Debbie Lesko are the front-runners for the party’s nomination in what has long been a Republican stronghold. Analysts said the winner of the Republican primary would be heavily favored to win the April 24 general election.

Last week, Montenegro, a married minister and Franks’ former district director, was accused in media reports of having a text relationship with a state Senate staffer that included her sending a topless photo to him in November.

Montenegro, who resigned from the state Senate in December to run for Congress, has denied he acted inappropriately. Reuters has not confirmed the report.

Lesko became embroiled in controversy over moving $50,000 garnered from her state Senate race to a political action committee that backs her congressional campaign. She said the move was legal.

Other top candidates are former state lawmaker Phil Lovas, former state utility commissioner Bob Stump and radio show host and former Franks opponent Clair Van Steenwyk, pollsters said.

“This race unfortunately has lived down to everyone’s expectations with all of its scandals,” said Stan Barnes, a Republican political consultant. “I think this is going to come down to who has offended voters the least.”

Barnes said the recent developments would have an impact but be blunted by the fact that a sizable number of people had already cast ballots in early voting.

A poll last month from OH Predictive Insights had Montenegro and Lesko tied with 21 percent of the vote, followed by Lovas with 12 percent.

Montenegro and Lesko have both expressed support for Republican President Donald Trump, taken anti-abortion stances and backed tough immigration measures, tighter border security and gun rights.

Vying for the Democratic nomination on Tuesday are emergency room physician Dr. Hiral Tipirneni and Brianna Westbrook, a transgender woman who has advocated for anti-discrimination protection for gays.

Editing by Ian Simpson and Peter Cooney

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