In Arizona Race, Conservatives View Stormy Daniels as a ‘Little Hard to Believe’

While liberals have expressed outrage at Ms. Clifford’s allegations, many conservatives in this district west of Phoenix say that her statements have done little to change their view of the president, or of candidates like Ms. Lesko who support him.

“I feel bad for Trump,” said Sandi Caskey, 78, a retired General Motors employee who on Tuesday was bowling with church friends.

“I say about her what I say about most of these females,” Ms. Caskey said of Ms. Clifford, and of other women who have come forward with claims of misconduct. “Why now? When all this was going on, why didn’t you take care of it at the time?”

Ms. Clifford told “60 Minutes” that she struck a $130,000 deal for her silence in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign. She is now suing Mr. Trump to be released from a nondisclosure agreement she reached with his lawyer.

The Arizona race pits Ms. Lesko, a state legislator for a decade, against Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, an emergency room doctor and political newcomer who is among the women driven to run for office after Mr. Trump’s election. Ms. Lesko and Dr. Tipirneni are vying for the seat of Trent Franks, a Republican who left Congress last year after he was accused of offering $5 million to an aide to be a surrogate mother.

The election is the first major race of the Trump presidency in which both candidates are women. Election Day is April 24; early ballots go out this week.

The district’s population is heavily religious and retired, and so conservative that Democrats did not field a candidate in the last two elections. Chuck Coughlin, a Republican strategist in the state, called it “about the safest Republican seat that you could imagine.”

Still, the Republican National Committee is spending about $280,000 to bolster Ms. Lesko, a sign, Democrats say, of Republican concern.

And after a series of Democratic upsets in recent special elections — first with Doug Jones in Alabama and then with Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania — Dr. Tipirneni believes that she can win. “Our Democratic base is energized,” she said. “There are a lot of reasons that Arizona can be next.”

Dr. Tipirneni, who said she believes Ms. Clifford’s claims, has criticized Mr. Trump, calling him a poor role model.


An interview with Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic film star known as Stormy Daniels, was shown on a TV in a Washington, D.C., bar.

Tasos Katopodis/EPA, via Shutterstock

Over the weekend, in a debate on local television, Ms. Lesko called for an investigation into the claims of sexual misconduct by Mr. Trump, a striking statement from a candidate who had otherwise praised the president. “I’m not the president,” she said, “and I don’t use his rhetoric and I certainly am not going to sexually harass anyone.”

But later, in an interview at her home, she said she had misspoken.

“I didn’t mean a formal investigation by government or something like that,” she said. “I just meant it needs to run its course.”

At the bowling alley, Kathe Wilson, 67, an accountant, said that she had watched Sunday’s “60 Minutes” interview and believed much of what Ms. Clifford had said. But she said that it would not sway her from Mr. Trump or Republican candidates.

“Personally,” she said, “I don’t care what he did 12 years ago.”

At a nearby Arby’s, Cheri and Bob McGunagle said they had not even bothered to watch. Because of Ms. Clifford’s work as a pornographic film star, “she has less credibility,” said Mr. McGunagle, 75.

“Her style of life and what she does and how she conducts herself isn’t the Christian way, and we’re Christians,” he said.

Ms. McGunagle, 73, said she thought Ms. Clifford was angling for a spot on a reality television show. “I just hope she’s not on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’” she said, “because they’re going to lose a fan.”

Arizona’s Eighth District is 41 percent Republican and 24 percent Democrat, with 35 percent independent or otherwise affiliated, according to recent numbers from the secretary of state. While Dr. Tipirneni is pushing to become the next big upset, political strategists note that there are differences between this district and Pennsylvania’s 18th, where Mr. Lamb won this month.


Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, the Democratic candidate in the Arizona House race, hopes to follow upsets in Alabama and Pennsylvania with one of her own.

Caitlin O’Hara for The New York Times

Mr. Lamb ran as an anti-Pelosi Democrat with moderate views on abortion, Mr. Coughlin said, “and the candidate out here is not doing any of those things; she’s running a more typical Democratic campaign.” Pennsylvania, he added, “was a much more blue-collar, working-class district. This is not that.”

But not everyone is sticking by Mr. Trump, or by Republican candidates.

On Tuesday night, at least 200 people came out to a high school to listen to Dr. Tipirneni, who spoke of her support for a public health insurance option, “common-sense” gun control, and robust funding for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Among those in the crowd were Greg Newman and Robyn Kramer, independents who had come to support Dr. Tipirneni, with their daughter, Ellyana, 9.

“I’m a retired 20-year military veteran Air Force officer; I’ve leaned Republican my whole life,” said Mr. Newman, 49. “And this year I declared to be a Democrat.”

Among the many factors that swayed him, he said, were the allegations of sexual misconduct against Mr. Trump.

“Beyond reproach,” he said. “It’s appalling to me that anyone could get behind and support someone like that,” he went on. “I look back and I go, ‘is this really why I served?’”

Continue reading the main story