Sinema throws curveball into Arizona’s 2024 Senate race
Sen. Krysten Sinema’s decision to leave the Democratic Party and register as an Independent is already having a significant impact on Arizona’s Senate race in 2024.
While it remains unclear whether Sinema will even run for reelection in two years, her Friday announcement means Republicans and Democrats in the Grand Canyon State are already having to recalibrate ahead of what is expected to be a bitterly fought contest in two years.
“It’s a new game of chess for Democrats and Republicans about how do you actually play the game to be successful statewide,” said Lorna Romero, an Arizona-based Republican strategist, who worked on the late Sen. John McCain’s (Ariz.) 2016 reelection bid.
Prior to Sinema’s announcement that she was leaving the Democratic Party, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a noted Sinema critic, was considered the top candidate to challenge her in the party’s 2024 primary.
Gallego reacted to the news on Friday by accusing Sinema of “once again putting her own interests ahead of getting things done for Arizonans.”
Other progressives echoed Gallego’s reaction.
“She should join her friends on Wall Street in 2024, and Democrats should nominate someone truly on the side of the working class who can unite and win Arizona,” said Stephanie Taylor, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
The Primary Sinema campaign, also known as the Change for Arizona 2024 PAC, vowed in a statement to defeat Sinema in a general election “with a real Democrat.”
“For the last year, we’ve been laying the groundwork to defeat Kyrsten Sinema because Arizonans deserve a Senator who cares about them, and not special interests,” the group said.
Indeed, the numbers would seem to suggest at first glance that Sinema will be in trouble no matter what letter is beside her name on the ballot. An AARP poll released in September showed her with a 54 percent unfavorable rate and 37 percent favorable rate among all Arizona voters. Among Democrats, 57 percent said they had an unfavorable view of her and 37 percent said they had a favorable view. Among Republicans, Sinema’s unfavorable rating dropped to 54 percent, and her favorable rating sat at 36 percent.
However, Sinema had her highest favorable and lowest unfavorable rating among independent voters, respectively at 41 percent and 51 percent.
“The fastest growing political party in the state is actually independent voters,” said Arizona-based pollster Mike Noble, chief research and managing partner at OH Predictive insights.
“There’s got to be representation for folks more in the middle,” he continued. “I could absolutely see Democrats having a progressive candidate, Republicans having a more hard-right candidate, and then you have Sinema in the middle. Absolutely there is a path to victory there for her.”
One Arizona-based GOP operative predicted Sinema would “kick everyone’s ass” if she ran as an Independent.
“She is John McCain-ish and would pull from both sides,” the operative argued. “Gallego would get crushed, and unless Ducey runs the GOP has nobody. You can’t beat Sinema with a generic candidate.”
Others aren’t as convinced.
“It’s a really tough hill to climb,” one national Republican strategist told The Hill. “I think she could probably win the independent vote as an Independent, but I don’t think she could win the Democrat vote as an Independent. I don’t think she could win the Republican vote as an Independent.”
Sinema likely wouldn’t have issues making the ballot in Arizona as an Independent. She would need to obtain a minimum of 43,492 signatures to get on the ballot, which is not expected to be difficult given her name ID.
Should she run as an Independent in 2024, Democrats would face the difficult question of whether or not to field their own candidate. Should they do so with Sinema also on the ballot, they risk losing votes from both the independent voters and the more centrist Democrats who have helped propel them to victory in the state in recent elections.
Republicans argue that while a candidate like Gallego could easily win a Democratic primary, someone that progressive would not fare as well in a general. On the other hand, they argue the opposite is true for Sinema.
Regardless, Republicans say Sinema’s announcement is a reason for their party to be optimistic after a bruising midterm election that saw them lose high-profile Senate and gubernatorial races.
“The fact is, if Sinema were the Democrat nominee, it would have been a very, very tough race,” said Brian Seitchik, an Arizona-based GOP strategist who is a Trump campaign alum.
“This is a good day to be an aspiring senator from the state of Arizona if you’re a Republican,” he said.
Already a number of Republican names have been floated for the party’s Arizona Senate nomination, including outgoing Gov. Doug Ducey, Rep.-elect Juan Ciscomani and former gubernatorial Karrin Taylor Robson.
“It would have to be somebody like that who is still relatively known and has the financial backing behind them,” Romero said.
And just like she has impacted the future of key pieces of legislation on Capitol Hill, Sinema’s decision on whether or not to run again in 2024 could stand to impact the future of the state’s Senate seat.
“The one thing we do know about her is that she’s predictably unpredictable,” Seitchik said.
Al Weaver contributed.
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