Sinema's Switch May Be About 2024

Some reasons for party change aren't clear, but she'd have little help from Democrats back home anyway
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 9, 2022 3:38 PM CST
Sinema's Switch May Be About 2024
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., center, gestures during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington in July with, from left, Sen. Rob Portman, Sen. Joe Manchin, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The search for answers and future fallout from Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's decision to leave the Democratic Party has turned up plenty of possibilities. Democratic leaders in Washington refrained from bashing her decision, hoping to keep her voting with them. Democrats in Arizona, who invested in her 2018 campaign and helped put her in the Senate, see the decision as strategic, calculated to avoid a difficult primary battle in two years that she might well lose—and not so much about the systemic problems with the two-party system that she cited Friday. The reporting and analyses cover:

  • The Senate: Sinema sounds like she expects to stay on the committees Democratic leaders assigned her to, and caucus with the party—which affects the chamber's organization—but she won't quite say so. It's not clear which side of the aisle her desk will sit on, per the Washington Post. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called her an effective senator and said her change won't much affect "the new Democratic majority Senate." Sinema rarely went to Democratic caucus meetings anyway, per the New York Times.
  • The timing: She told Democrats of her decision two days after Georgia reelected Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, cushioning the blow to Senate Democrats. She won't get much Democratic support in 2024 anyway, Aaron Blake writes in a Post analysis, but the same decision would have fallen differently if Warnock had lost. "Imagine her trying to appeal to any of the Democrats who elected her in 2018 after having handed the Senate majority to the GOP," Blake says. A Democratic House member from Arizona said his wife predicted the switch hours after Warnock won, per Politico. "I bet you she goes independent," Mona Grijalva said. "In terms of her leverage in the Senate, the universe shifted with that victory," said Rep. Raul Grijalva.
  • The ideology: Sinema has shown flexibility here. Progressive activists in Arizona are especially irked by the shifts in a politician they supported and now see her as a major opponent, per the Los Angeles Times. Sinema began in politics in the Green Party and as antiwar activist, a "Prada socialist" called too extreme by her state's Democratic Party, per the AP. Sinema then went independent, then Democratic. She said Friday her values won't change. She said that she wouldn't become "distracted by political drama," Elvia Diaz points out in a USA Today column, but created it with such attention-grabbers as giving a demonstrative thumbs-down to a minimum wage measure on the Senate floor and posting pictures on social media of a ring with the message "f--k off."
  • The next race: Sinema had been headed toward a 2024 primary against Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, whose campaign sent a fundraising text after her announcement saying he's "thinking of running," per Axios. A poll in September showed Sinema with a favorable rating of 37% among Democrats back home; 57% had an unfavorable opinion of her, per the Post. The earliest polls show strength for Gallego. Had Arizona Republicans Kari Lake or Blake Masters won their statewide elections last month, Gallego might have challenged one of them next time, per Bloomberg. But with those paths closed, Sinema's seat is a prime target; progressives already were thinking of challenging her from the left. Sinema's unpopularity with Democrats means she would need Republicans and independents to back her next time, Diaz writes, but counting on Arizona's GOP, especially, to support Sinema seems a tough bet. She made this move because it's her best shot, Diaz says.
(More Kyrsten Sinema stories.)

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