Arizona Senate: Sinema’s Decision Complicates 2024 Race
December 9, 2022 · 11:00 AM EST
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s decision to leave the Democratic Party doesn’t have an immediate impact on Democrats’ control of the Senate — but it does complicate the 2024 battleground race in Arizona.
Since the senator said she will not caucus with Republicans, her decision will not affect Democrats’ new majority. If she caucuses with Democrats (similar to Angus King of Maine or Bernie Sanders of Vermont), then the party will effectively have a 51-49 majority. If Sinema doesn’t caucus with either party, Democrats will have a 50-49 majority, and their Georgia runoff victory will not have been in vain.
After breaking with her party over voting rights legislation and domestic spending bills, becoming a crucial swing vote in the evenly-divided chamber, Sinema has faced severe backlash from her own party; the Arizona Democratic Party censured the senator for voting to keep the filibuster and national Democratic-aligned groups pressured her to change her position.
That backlash was almost certain to culminate in a primary for the senator. Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego has openly weighed running in the 2024 Democratic primary in 2024 and has reportedly started interviewing paid media firms.
The senator has not said whether she will run for re-election in 2024. While Sinema can now avoid a contentious primary battle, her decision makes the general election more complicated (provided she can meet a higher signature threshold for ballot access as an independent).
If she runs, her ultimate relationship with the Democratic Party will determine whether she gets support as an incumbent seeking re-election or whether she will have to run on her own.
Independent Senators Bernie Sanders and Angus King, who caucus with the Democrats, don’t face serious, organized opposition from Democrats running against them. But since she faces so much opposition within her own party, it’s hard to see Democratic politicians and organizations allowing the official party apparatus to support Sinema. Democrats and Republicans are likely to field viable nominees, creating a competitive three-way race that would probably benefit Republicans.
Democrats don’t have much margin for error in Arizona. Despite Sen. Mark Kelly’s re-election victory and Joe Biden’s win in 2020, Arizona still has a GOP tinge to it. According to Inside Elections’ Baseline metric, which measures partisan performance, Republicans have a 50.4-48.6 percent edge.
Republicans also have a voter registration advantage. As of the November general election, the GOP had a 34.67-30.66 percent over Democrats, with 33.89 percent identifying as “other.” And according to the exit poll from the 2022 Senate race, self-described Republicans outnumbered Democrats 33 percent to 27 percent in Arizona, compared to 40 percent of the electorate who identified as independent.
Sinema can’t count on receiving all of those independent votes. She’s universally disliked by voters in Arizona, and a poll conducted by the bipartisan duo of Impact Research and Fabrizio Ward showed her favorability at 37 percent favorable and 54 percent unfavorable in September. Her favorability is highest among independents at 41 percent — and among Democratic and Republican voters, it’s essentially the same at 37 and 36 percent, respectively.
Regardless of Sinema's decision, Arizona remains one of the nine initial battleground Senate races in 2024 and will be heavily contested by both parties.