Dec 12, 2022 - Politics

How Sinema's switch changes the electoral math in 2024

Kyrsten Sinema stands in front of a microphone at a lectern

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Kyrsten Sinema's decision to leave the Democratic Party and become an independent is shaking up the 2024 race for U.S. Senate.

The big picture: Sinema hasn't said whether she'll run for re-election, but if she does, it would set up a three-way race where she'd run as an independent against a Republican and a Democrat.

  • Sinema was widely expected to face a tough Democratic primary, and U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego has been flirting with a run against her.

1 big question: Can Sinema win the general election as an independent?

  • Her independence has endeared her to many centrist voters, but she's alienated some Democrats.

Between the lines: Jessica Taylor of the Cook Political Report tells Axios that running as an independent would be difficult.

  • Maine's Angus King and Vermont's Bernie Sanders, two senators aligned with Democrats but elected as independents, both ran with Democratic backing that Sinema is unlikely to have in 2024, Taylor says.
  • Winning would be harder for Sinema if Republicans nominate a more mainstream, establishment candidate, but she'd have a better shot if they run a hard-right candidate in the general election.

Between the lines: Sean Noble, a longtime Republican operative, says Republicans are likely to nominate a more "extreme" candidate, and if that happens, Sinema will take more votes from the GOP than from the Democrats.

What they're saying: Democratic campaign consultant Adam Kinsey tells Axios he expects most voters to still fall in line with their traditional partisan leanings.

  • "The problem is, when you're assuming that Arizona's independent streak will mean they'll vote for an actual independent, we don't have any evidence that suggests that's the case," Kinsey says.

Yes, and: Kinsey says Sinema's switch makes 2024 more difficult for the Democrats, but they can still win the seat.

The intrigue: Gallego and fellow Rep. Greg Stanton are both viewed as potential candidates for the race.

  • Most Democratic insiders consider it unlikely that both would run.

The other side: Sources pointed to U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, congressman-elect Juan Ciscomani, gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake, Senate nominee Blake Masters and Arizona Republican Party chair Kelli Ward as possible Republican contenders.

  • Most of the candidates are aligned with former President Trump, while Ciscomani is from the more establishment wing of the party.

My thought bubble: If she runs as an independent, Sinema could siphon off votes for moderate Republicans and center-right independents, which could hurt the GOP nominee.

  • But those are the same voters that Democrats rely on to win statewide races, as several candidates did this year by capitalizing on Republican dissatisfaction with some of their nominees.

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