Will Sinema Even Run?

[ Posted Monday, January 23rd, 2023 – 16:34 UTC ]

Representative Ruben Gallego made some news today with his announcement that he is running for the 2024 Democratic nomination for a Senate seat in Arizona. If she were still a Democrat, this would be framed as Senator Kyrsten Sinema "drawing a challenger" or "being primaried" from within her own party, but since she became an Independent that is no longer true. With a Republican in the mix as well, there may wind up being a three-way contest for the seat. But then again, maybe not.

The question I've had for quite a while -- back when she was still a Democrat, even -- was whether Sinema would even bother to run for re-election. As of now, she hasn't made an announcement either way. And up until now, I have been assuming that she wouldn't run at all. When you take into account both the fact that she is incredibly unpopular in her home state together with the fact that Sinema has firmly stood for only one thing during her tenure so far -- protecting the interests of large corporations and wealthy taxpayers. Many of her constituents feel more than a little betrayed, after Sinema initially won her seat promising to take on big corporate interests. Since arriving in Washington, she has done a complete U-turn on her campaign promises, and now fights hard for things like allowing the pharmaceutical industry to charge whatever they feel like for prescription drugs.

This is not a popular position to take in Arizona, which (like Florida) has historically had a high number of retirees living there. But then again, it is not a popular position for any politician to take pretty much anywhere in the country. This (among many other reasons) is why Sinema's approval ratings back home are far underwater.

Sinema surely must be able to read such polls. She must know how incredibly unpopular she is. In matchups with a Democrat and Republican in the race, she polls in a distant third place. Winning would be an almost-impossible feat for her to pull off, really.

Sinema's move to becoming an Independent in the Senate was a result of her incredibly low approval ratings among Democratic voters. They are the ones who feel the most betrayed by her turnabout from all her campaign promises. Many are incensed at how Sinema joined Joe Manchin to block much of President Joe Biden's agenda, by refusing to even consider altering the filibuster rules. Voting rights, abortion, reforming elections, and a large chunk of Biden's "Build Back Better" plan all were torpedoed by Manchin and Sinema. And her voters took note.

After the midterms, and after her announcement she was leaving the Democratic Party, the thinking in the punditocracy was that Sinema was going to try to get re-elected by appealing to Arizona voters who were tired of the nutjobs the Republicans keep nominating there but would have a problem voting for an actual Democrat. These disaffected Republicans and independent voters would overwhelm both parties' candidates draw among their respective bases, according to this theory. But that doesn't exactly seem very viable, for Sinema. There seem to be far more Democratic voters interested in voting for a Democrat as well as Republican voters who want to elect an actual Republican than the disaffected voters Sinema was supposedly courting.

Perhaps if Sinema's polling weren't so dismal, she might indeed make a bid for re-election. But all she's likely to do is to become a spoiler -- for either side. She could draw enough Republicans from the Republican candidate to deny him or her the victory, or she could wind up doing the same to the Democratic candidate. Either way, she would wind up with a whole bunch of people annoyed with her -- even more than are annoyed with her currently.

I have always believed that Sinema saw a quick stop in the Senate as a necessary box to check on her way to her ultimate goal -- becoming a high-priced lobbyist and selling her influence to the highest bidder. It is entirely in keeping with her nature, after all -- just look at her track record. In fact, I saw her move to becoming an Independent as confirmation of this theory, since if she distances herself from the Democratic Party she will be able to attract more Republican clients in her lobbying efforts. But Democratic or Republican, what she's really interested in is deep-pocket corporate interests. Which could easily be why she moved her brand to a more non-partisan position.

One thing that seems all but certain is that it will be a close race. If I am wrong and Sinema does run, it'll be a tight race (from the current polling) between the Democratic and Republican candidates, no matter who they turn out to be. If she doesn't run, it'll still likely wind up being a very close race, considering the purple nature of Arizona these days.

Ruben Gallego has no guarantee that he'll win the Democratic nomination, but he is seen as the most likely candidate since another strong competitor, Representative Greg Stanton, announced last week that he would not be running for Sinema's seat. But there doubtlessly will be other Democrats who do throw their hats into the ring.

The real question in the primaries is whether the Democratic Party will back their own candidate or Sinema. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee could (as it has in the past) donate money to an Independent candidate, or it could back the strongest Democrat running (which, at this point, is Gallego). Or they could choose to keep their powder dry and not support any candidate until after the primaries are decided. The problem for Democrats is that they are going to have a very tough time in 2024, due to how many seats in possibly-vulnerable states they'll be defending. Sinema is a sitting senator, so it might be tempting to just back the incumbent in the hopes that she'll win in the end, while trusting that even without a "D" next to her name, she'll still caucus with the Democrats.

My guess is that the D.S.C.C. will likely postpone making this decision for a while. They'll keep a close eye on the polling and weigh everyone's chances. It wouldn't make a whole lot of sense (seeing as how many other challenging races there will be) to back a candidate with no real shot at winning in November, after all.

But in the end, the D.S.C.C. really should back their own party's candidate. This isn't Vermont or Maine, where the Independent candidate is far and away the frontrunner in the race. And there are plenty of Democrats -- both within Arizona and elsewhere -- who feel betrayed by Kyrsten Sinema's antics in the Senate. If the national party backs Sinema in the primaries, it could jeopardize their ability to raise money from big Democratic donors. The backlash might be more costly than it is worth, in other words.

But for the time being at least, my take on the entire situation is that Sinema probably won't even bother running. She quite obviously would enjoy spending the next six years making as much money off of corporate interests as possible, and as a lobbyist she'd be able to just pocket this money instead of directing it all to campaign accounts (as she'd have to continue doing as a senator). My guess -- although I freely admit it could turn out to be wrong -- is that this is going to wind up being a two-way race, not a three-way contest.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


3 Comments on “Will Sinema Even Run?”

  1. [1] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    I’ve long shared your sentiments that she’s looking to a big payday as a corporate lobbyist and I don’t see how losing in 2024 serves that goal.

  2. [2] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Most politicians use corporate money as a means to stay in office. In the case of sinema those factors seem to be reversed. Between running and not running, the only question as i see it is which will net her more money.

  3. [3] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    If you’re keeping score at home, with the discovery of Classified docs at Pench’s residence makes it,

    Documents Scofflaws:

    Repugs — 2

    Dims — 1

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