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Primary election to fill Rep. Trent Franks' seat set for February 27

Posted at 8:26 AM, Dec 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-11 19:54:22-05

Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday set the dates for special primary and general elections to fill the vacancy created when U.S. Rep. Trent Franks resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations, setting off a scramble among Republicans to fill the rare open seat.

Two Republicans immediately announced they would run in the Feb. 27 primary, former Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump 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 utility regulator.

RELATED: Rep. Trent Franks changes resignation to take effect immediately

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. Three Democrats had already filed for the seat when Franks resigned on Friday.

Two relatively unknown Republicans also had filed with the Federal Election Commission, but with Franks out, they'll 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, who planned to run for state treasurer, and Sen. Debbie Lesko, who heads the Appropriations Committee. Maricopa County Supervisor Clint Hickman is considered a possible candidate, as is former state Rep. Phil Lovas, a Trump administration appointee in the Small Business Administration.

Lovas resigned from the SBA on Monday, without explanation. Campaign consultant and friend Brian Seitchik returned a call for Lovas and said he'd 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 COO of the national campaign.

Sitting lawmakers will likely need to resign to enter the race, as Montenegro's campaign consultant said he planned to do. 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 November.

The unusual timing of Franks resignation would surely trigger Arizona's "resign to run" law, said elections lawyer Tim La Sota, who is a former state Republican Party general counsel.  That's because the Jan. 10 deadline for filing the needed nomination petitions comes less than a year before the current legislative terms end on Jan. 14, 2019, bringing the voter-approved law into play.

The Secretary of State's office declined to weigh in, referring a question about resign to run to the attorney general's office, which did not respond to calls seeking comment.

La Sota said his analysis is that the law is clear, and short of a lawsuit will bind candidates who are currently in the Legislature to resign.

"I guess you could always litigate something, but starting a congressional run with a lawsuit against the people of the state of Arizona is probably not a great play," La Sota said.

Franks submitted his resignation Thursday, saying he had discussed surrogacy with two female staffers. On Friday, he made the resignation immediate and an aide to Franks told The Associated Press that he pressed her to carry his child and offered $5 million.