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Sinema’s mutually assured destruction

Thought Leader: Josh Kraushaar
December 11, 2022
Source: Axios

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s stunning decision to become an independent has triggered the possibility of a blue-on-purple civil war that could cost Democrats a must-win Senate seat in 2024.

The big picture: In the last three elections, Democrats have won unlikely victories in traditionally red Arizona because a critical mass of independents and moderate Republicans couldn’t stomach MAGA-aligned GOP nominees.

What to watch: The White House and Democrats’ Senate campaign arm will have two crucial decisions to make:

  1. If Sinema runs for re-election, will they endorse her independent candidacy, preempting a serious Democratic challenger?
  2. Or will they rally behind a Democrat like Rep. Ruben Gallego, risking a messy general election that could hand her seat over to a Republican?

If Democrats take the first path, Sinema will be treated like Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats and draws only nominal Democratic opposition in his campaigns.

If Democrats take the second path, party leaders will work all-out to oppose her re-election (assuming she runs).

What they’re saying: “I know this will probably disappoint folks, but I’m actually not even thinking about electoral politics or talking about that at all right now,” Sinema said coyly when asked about her 2024 plans on CNN.

Between the lines: Even with a muddled pathway to re-election, Sinema has suddenly handed herself significant leverage, both legislatively and politically.

Flashback: In 2018, both Sinema and Gallego wanted to run for the Senate. Schumer persuaded Gallego to pass on the race, giving Sinema a glide path to the Democratic nomination.

By the numbers: Democrats only make up 31% of registered voters in Arizona, lagging behind Republicans (35%) and independents (34%).

The bottom line: With a narrow majority and a punishing Senate map in 2024, Democrats can’t afford to squander any purple-state Senate seats.

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