PHOENIX — The Arizona governor on Monday set the dates for special elections to fill the vacancy created when U.S. Rep. Trent Franks resigned over sexual misconduct allegations, setting off a Republican scramble to win a rare open congressional seat.
Two Republicans immediately announced they would run in the Feb. 27 primary: Bob Stump, a former utility regulator and state Sen. Steve Montenegro. Both are painting themselves as conservatives, with Montenegro vowing to back President Donald Trump and Stump touting the expertise he developed as a regulator.
More well-known GOP candidates are expected to join the race in the heavily Republican 8th Congressional District, which spans much of the northwestern Phoenix suburbs. The winner of the primary would move ahead to the April 24 general election, which was scheduled by Gov. Doug Ducey.
Three Democrats had already filed to run when Franks resigned Friday.
Two relatively unknown Republicans also had filed with the Federal Election Commission, but with Franks out, they will likely be dwarfed by new GOP candidates with established name identification and fundraising ability.
Others said to be interested in the race include state Sen. Kimberly Yee and state Sen. Debbie Lesko. Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman said he's considering a run, and former state Rep. Phil Lovas, a Trump appointee to the Small Business Administration, is being lobbied to run.
Lovas resigned from the agency Monday without explanation. Campaign consultant and friend Brian Seitchik returned a call for Lovas and said he would have more to say about his future later in the week.
State Treasurer Jeff DeWit said "he would be a great choice for the voters of CD8." Lovas ran Trump's Arizona campaign operations, while DeWit was chief operating officer of the national campaign.
Sitting lawmakers will likely need to resign to enter the race, which is what Montenegro plans to do, his campaign consultant said. That would leave them without incumbent status if they lose the congressional race and hope to recapture a legislative or statewide seat in the regular election set for next November.
The unusual timing of Franks' resignation would surely trigger Arizona's "resign to run" law, said elections lawyer Tim La Sota, a former state Republican Party general counsel. That's because a Jan. 10 deadline for filing nomination petitions is less than a year before the current legislative terms end on Jan. 14, 2019.3 comments on this story
The Arizona secretary of state's office declined to weigh in, referring a question about the voter-approved law to the attorney general's office.
A spokesman, Ryan Anderson, said the office is reviewing state laws, the Arizona Constitution and previous court rulings. An official opinion is expected later in the week.
Franks submitted his resignation Thursday, saying he had discussed surrogacy with two female staffers. A day later, he made the resignation immediate, and a former aide told The Associated Press that he pressed her to carry his child and offered her $5 million to be a surrogate.