WASHINGTON, D.C. – Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, an Arizona emergency room physician and cancer research advocate making her first bid for public office, savored victory in the Democratic primary in the state’s 8th Congressional District, besting Brianna Westbrook. Tipirneni will now vie for the vacant seat against Republican former state senator Debbie Lesko in a special election on April 24.
Tipirneni defeated Westbrook by 59.6 percent to 40.4 percent or 21,703-14,701 votes. Westbrook, a transgender woman, got involved in politics after pressing for a policy in Arizona that would protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination.
Lesko, victor in the GOP primary, beat her closest challenger Phil Lovas by 35.8 percent to 23.9 percent, or 25,508-17,031 votes.
Immediately after the Associated Press called the Democratic contest in favor of Tipirneni at 8:30 p.m., the elated candidate told ABC15, “The celebration is tonight. The hard work starts again tomorrow, and we are going full steam ahead.”
Then in an interview with the Arizona Republic, she declared, “I think we won because our message was really connecting with voters, resonating. I think they are looking for someone who brings something like my skill set to the table, somebody who is ready to work with people from all backgrounds and really focus on solving the problems at hand.”
She is seen as facing an uphill battle against Lesko, who beat 11 challengers in the GOP primary in a district that is more than 85 percent white and conservative. The district had been the preserve of conservative right-wing Republican Trent Franks, who served in the House of Representatives since 2003, but resigned in December in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations.
Tipirneni, however, exuded confidence and said she believed she could compete despite the district being a GOP stronghold.
“These are folks that are really looking to make some forward progress. They are tired of divisiveness, they’re tired of the rancor, they’re tired of the obstructionism, and they’re looking for folks who are really focused on solving some problems and getting down to business,” she said.
Arizona Democratic Party chair Felecia Rotellini, congratulated Tipirneni. “She ran an incredible campaign focused on improving the lives of Arizonians in the Eighth Congressional District by offering real solutions for them,” Rotellini said in a statement. “This is in direct contrast to the chaos Arizonians have seen on their television screens by the Arizona Republican Party.”
Lesko, however, seemed to dismiss Tipirneni as a serious challenger. “It’s a Republican district for the most part and good patriotic people that believe in good values, fiscal conservatism and I share their values,” she said.
Announcing her candidacy last August, Tipirneni declared "I'm not a career politician... But I've successfully worked with people from all walks of life, and I promise to bring that team-oriented approach to working with Republicans and Democrats alike to get the results we need.”
She has served the Phoenix area for more than two decades, first as an emergency room physician and most recently, as a member of the board of directors of the Maricopa Health Foundation, which supports the county’s public health care delivery system.
Tipirneni was 3 when she immigrated to the U.S. with her family, who first settled in blue-collar suburb of Cleveland, Ohio.
Many of her interviews, statements and posts on the internet provide a background to her life in the U.S. and her decision to run. She recalls how her immigrant family struggled at first, but her father had eventually secured a job in his field of structural engineering in Ohio. Her mother, a social worker, was the director of a downtown Cleveland senior center and initiated its Meals on Wheels program. Tipirneni says she often accompanied her mother, and it was then she began to feel the tremendous impact small acts of service can have on another person.
She said her decision to become a physician stems from a childhood illness that ultimately inspired her to learn more about medicine. She earned her medical degree through an accelerated, competitive program at Northeast Ohio Medical University. She chose the specialty of emergency medicine because of the wide variety of challenges it presented and also because it allowed her to be patients’ first point of contact.
She and her husband Dr. Kishore Tipirneni met during her first year of medical school. After a stint as chief resident of the University of Michigan’s Emergency Medicine program, they had “looked for a place they could settle down, practice medicine, and begin raising a family—and somewhere that reflected the Midwestern values they both learned growing up.”
Their choice was Glendale, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix.
Tipirneni’s passion for cancer research had been catalyzed by the loss of her mother and nephew to cancer. She now leads teams of researchers, clinicians, and patient advocates in the fight to treat and cure breast cancer, prostate cancer, and childhood leukemia.
A month after she declared her candidacy, she was in Washington, D.C., visiting with Democratic National Committee officials, campaign consultants and potential funders and also longtime activists like Shekar Narasimhan, founder and chairman of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Victory Fund, which endorsed her.