Republicans are fretting that a front-runner for an Arizona congressional seat — a married minister involved in a sexting scandal — will pull a Roy Moore and hand the seat to Democrats if he wins Tuesday’s special-election primary.
The seat vacated by former GOP Rep. Trent Franks — who resigned last December over his own sex scandal — should be an easy hold for Republicans.
But a bombshell report of nude photos and text messages exchanged between the candidate, former state Sen. Steve Montenegro, and a legislative staffer — published just a week before the election — has left GOP operatives worried that “it could be Alabama all over again,” said Shiree Verdone, who ran Arizona Sen. John McCain’s 2010 Senate race.
Before the turmoil, Montenegro had lined up endorsements from Franks and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), whose leadership PAC boosted Montenegro in TV ads. He was tied in the polls with Debbie Lesko, his former colleague in the state Senate — both quit the chamber to run for the seat — when ballots were mailed out at the end of January.
“Deep down, I’m worried because I don’t want this to be another Roy Moore situation,” Verdone added.
The GOP nominee should coast to victory in the April 24 special election. President Donald Trump won the district, based in the suburbs north and west of Phoenix, by 21 points in 2016. And even if a Democrat defeated Montenegro, the seat would still be up in the general election in November, when Republicans would be heavily favored to win it back.
But the scandal could still “impact the party’s perception and brand,” said Mike Noble, a GOP pollster in the state. “Montenegro winning — that’s a big fear for Republicans right now,” he said.