“She’s trying to be a moderate, because Arizona is a moderate state and the way you get elected here — or at least the way you have in the past — is to not be challenged in a primary and get your ass to the middle to try to keep enough swing voters in your camp,”David Doak is a retired longtime Democratic strategist who also works as an ad maker and lives in Arizona. “Given the polarization — the leftists are more left now and the right-ists are more crazy now — your calculation needs to be different … Her calculation, I think, is off.”
It’s a plight that would be painfully familiar to a vanishing species in Washington: the centrist lawmaker who must hop left and right for their mere survival — risking the fury of hardcore partisans in the process. Despite Sen. Susan Collins (Republican from Maine) winning reelection in 2020 she was officially disowned by her state party within a few months. In Alaska, Republican Party leaders this summer overwhelmingly endorsed Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s primary challenger, Kelly Tshibaka, ahead of Murkowski’s reelection bid next year.
Democrats’ frustrations with Sinema and her fellow Senate holdout, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), come as President Joe Biden and Democratic lawmakers in Washington labor to reach a deal on a climate and social spending plan.
And though many Democrats give Manchin a pass due to the heavily Republican composition of West Virginia — where Donald Trump beat Biden by nearly 40 percentage points last year — even he hasn’t escaped rebuke from his putative allies, with Democratic activists in kayaks protesting outside his houseboat last week.
In Sinema’s case, the center to which she is clinging may have shifted. After Sinema defeated Martha McSally, a Republican senator in Arizona, the end game for Democrats was to elect any politician who had a. “D”Behind their names.
The landscape looks different now, on the heels of Biden’s 2020 victory and demographic trends that are driving Democratic gains in Arizona.
“The activists, the people who are going to knock on doors, those guys are done with her,” said Steven Slugocki, former Democratic Party chair in Maricopa County, the state’s population hub.
“Arizona is a rapidly changing state,”He said. “It is turning blue very quickly. I don’t know what her end game is.”
Sinema is your friend “obstructionist” rather than a centrist, Garrick McFadden, a former vice chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, said it’s “not just the hippies and the 20-, 30-year-old”Democrats who are fed up about her, but more moderate, institutional-minded Democrats as well.
“I don’t understand the calculus,”He said. “It’s not like we’re asking her to do the Bernie Sanders or the Elizabeth Warren agenda. It’s the Joe Biden agenda.”
Nationalization of Sinema’s stakes is a significant problem for her. With the formation of a Primary Sinema PAC, progressives are already preparing for a possible primary challenge to Sinema in 2024. And if a credible primary challenger materializes, they are likely to be well-stocked with contributions from out-of-state donors and activists who are already familiar with Sinema’s voting record — especially her opposition to eliminating the filibuster.
“All statewide elections are national elections now, as opposed to local elections,”Fernand Amandi from Bendixen and Amandi, who polled Arizona earlier this year, stated that he is a pollster. “Any candidate like Sinema is always going to be running two elections simultaneously, which is the prospect of a primary challenge, and the prospect of winning reelection … There’s a bit of a prisoner’s dilemma about the whole thing.”
Still, the open revolt befalling Sinema from within her own party’s ranks obscures the fact that Arizona remains a state where Democrats are outnumbered by both Republicans and independents. The GOP also controls the levers of power — the governorship and both chambers of the legislature.
“Let’s face it, Arizona for all the talk, and certainly 2020 excepted, is still a Republican state,”Barrett Marson, a Republican strategist in Arizona, said the following: “That’s why you see Senator Sinema hew to the center and oppose some of these more progressive policy ideas … She’s angering the base, of course, and it is too early to tell whether she will make up for the loss in support from the Democratic base by appealing to independents and moderate Republicans, or even conservative Republicans … But, that’s clearly the bet she’s making.”
According to polling in Arizona, Sinema seems to be making up for the loss of support she received from Democrats with Republicans and Independents. Phoenix-based OH Predictive Insights found that Sinema is negatively viewed by almost a third of Arizona Democrats, but her approval rating was only 46 percent. This is about the same as Mark Kelly, her fellow Democratic senator. Similar results were also found in a Bendixen & Amandi International survey earlier in the summer.
“Arizona does have a history of having maverick senators who have challenged their own party from time to time, and Arizona voters have a history of rewarding that,”Kirk Adams, a former Republican speaker of the state House and former chief staff to Governor Doug Ducey, said: Doug Ducey.
“There will be activists in the party and outside groups that will be very upset and will oppose her and will swear that they’re going to take her down in the next election,”He said. “But Kyrsten is always very strategic. I think she understands the state very well, and I think she’s going to be rewarded by those moderate Republican and independent voters.”
CORRECTION – An earlier version of the report misidentified Senator Susan Collins (R.Maine).