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GOP fears losing Arizona congressional seat over sexting scandal

By Sara Shayanian

Feb. 27 (UPI) -- A married minister implicated in a sexting scandal is a leading contender to win Tuesday's Republican primary for an Arizona congressional seat, making some party leaders uneasy about his prospects in an upcoming special election.

Some state GOP leaders fear the seat left vacant by former Republican Rep. Trent Franks, who resigned in December over a sexual misconduct scandal, could be taken by Democrats if former state Sen. Steve Montenegro wins the primary.

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According to an Arizona Republic investigation published last week, someone operating a phone Montenegro has used sent and received flirtatious text messages with one of his staff members in the state Senate. The messages included a topless photo of the staffer.

Montenegro initially denied the accusations but later admitted to exchanging the text messages and receiving a topless photo of a woman, identified as Stephanie Holford.

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But he told the Washington Examiner he "did not have any inappropriate relationships with this woman."

"At no time have I been inappropriately involved with any staffer -- nor have I ever. I have not solicited inappropriate material via text message or any other message," Montenegro said.

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Shiree Verdone, who ran Arizona Sen. John McCain's 2010 campaign, said she is worried.

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"It could be Alabama all over again," Verdone told Politico, referring to Roy Moore's defeat in a Senate race last year following sexual misconduct allegations.

If Montenegro wins the primary, he is expected to face strong Democratic opposition.

"The chaotic GOP primary has allowed our Democratic candidates to demonstrate that they're the adults in the room," Arizona Democratic Party spokesman Enrique Gutierrez said.

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Facing a wounded Montenegro could make it easier for Democrats to take the vacated seat -- typically an easy hold for Republicans.

"Montenegro winning -- that's a big fear for Republicans right now," Republican pollster Mike Noble said.

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