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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema enters the Democratic caucus meeting on Thursday with President Biden. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate are now explicitly campaigning against one of their potential colleagues, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — branded by one as a "sellout" for opposing filibuster changes to enact party priorities.

Why it matters: It's an evolution of an increasingly popular strategy among Democrats: turning legislative inaction to their advantage by casting themselves as the "50th vote" for programs or the filibuster changes needed to pass President Biden's agenda.

  • Former Rep. Abby Finkenauer, a Democrat running to challenge Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in November, called Sinema a "sellout" in a video posted to Twitter on Thursday.
  • "[Sinema] is there for what reason I don't know, but refuses to actually do anything that works for working families," said Finkenauer. The former frontline House member styles herself as a moderate.
  • John Fetterman, the progressive Pennsylvania lieutenant governor running for Senate, told Axios in a statement: "Now more than ever, Democrats need to vote like Democrats. Protecting the right to vote > Filibuster.”
  • Sinema’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The backdrop: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has long been a punching bag for progressive candidates. Like Sinema, he's opposed to altering the filibuster without bipartisan support.

  • “Nearly every party-line response to the problems we face in this body — every partisan action taken to protect a cherished value — has led us to more division, not less,” Sinema said in a speech just before President Biden arrived on Capitol Hill to lobby his fellow Democrats.
  • The stance earned her praise from the chamber's top Republican, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He told reporters: “It was extraordinarily important and she has, as a conspicuous act of political courage, saved the Senate as an institution.”
  • The trend of candidates contrasting themselves not just with Manchin but another of the Senate's most conservative Democrats seems to be gaining steam beyond progressives.

Driving the news: Finkenauer urged voters to "expand the Democratic majority" in her video. In a follow-up tweet, she vowed to "vote for filibuster reform to pass voting rights legislation."

  • On Tuesday, Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), who's running for the Senate, signaled her support after Biden said he backed changes to the filibuster.
  • "I'll be the 50th vote Democrats need to end the filibuster and pass voting rights protections," she said in a campaign email."
  • This is a shift from just a few weeks ago, when Axios' Sophia Cai reported on the spate of Dem candidates for Senate campaigning on the procedure (filibuster reform) but not the person (Sinema, Manchin).

Don't forget: Democratic pressure against Sinema will only get louder this weekend.

  • Relatives of the late Martin Luther King Jr., including his namesake Martin Luther King III and his wife, Arndrea Waters King, will hold a rally in Phoenix to urge the senator to change her position.
  • They'll be joined by the Rev. Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders.
  • The president hosted her and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) at the White House on Thursday evening to continue his own lobbying.

Go deeper

Pence: "Tragic" Jan. 6 no reason to scrap filibuster

Photo: Drew Angerer via Getty Images

Former Vice President Mike Pence on Friday called the Jan. 6 Capitol riot an attempt to "overturn results of the presidential election that had been certified by all 50 states."

Why it matters: Though the former vice president's op-ed in the Washington Post focuses on rebutting filibuster reforms, these are also the most public statements Pence has made about the post-election narrative and the attack as an effort to interfere with President Biden's victory.

North Korea launches 4th suspected missile test this month

A news broadcast in Seoul, South Korea, of an apparent North Korean missile test on Monday morning local time. Photo: Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images

North Korea's military fired "two suspected short-range ballistic missiles" eastward from Pyongyang on Monday morning local time, per South Korean and Japanese officials.

Why it matters: The fourth such launch since Jan. 5 comes days after North Korea's military warned of "stronger" action if the U.S. moved to have more sanctions imposed on the country.

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Winter view from Charlotte as winter storm Izzy creates dangerous conditions in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 16. Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A major winter storm was lashing much of the East Coast on Sunday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The big picture: Heavy snow and ice accumulations are "likely to produce hazardous travel," downed trees and more power outages from the Mid-South to the Northeast, per the National Weather Service. Some parts of the U.S. can expect to see up to a foot of snow through Monday.