Kyrsten Sinema is MIA for fellow Democrats in Arizona

Kyrsten Sinema is MIA for fellow Democrats in Arizona

PHOENIX—When Barack Obama came to Phoenix on Wednesday in the final days of the 2022 election, seemingly every big-name Arizona Democrat was in the room, from Sen. Mark Kelly and gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs to prominent party spokesmen like Rep. Ruben Gallego .

There was only one notable absence: Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

For months, Arizona Democrats have battled a tough political environment in hopes of re-electing Kelly, pushing Hobbs for governor over MAGA champion Kari Lake and helping Adrian Fontes defeat far-right denier Mark Finchem for secretary of state race.

The senior US senator from Arizona did not on the ballot itself through 2024. But while other Democratic senators in similar situations played an active role in bolstering fellow Democrats in their home states, there was a Sinem-sized hole in the Democratic campaign effort in Arizona.

During the 2022 election season, Sinema did not publicly campaign with her running mate Kelly, or with Hobbs, Fontes or any other Democrat on the state’s ballot. It wasn’t until two weeks before Election Day, with early voting, that Sinema even publicly confirmed its support for Hobbs.

A typically solid fundraiser, Sinema donated the maximum $10,000 to Kelly through her campaign and personal PAC, as well as $60,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which strongly endorsed Kelly. But according to federal and state campaign finance records, Sinema did not contribute to the campaigns of Hobbs or Fontes.

When Sinema appears in the campaign, awkwardness usually follows. When asked by The Daily Beast at a recent campaign event if Sinema would campaign with him, Kelly said they “work very closely together on a lot of different things, and I’ve been in constant contact with her about the election.”

But pressed on whether he had asked her to campaign for him, Kelly dodged the question.

“Well, you know what, I spend a lot of time flying around the country in a small plane,” he said. “I’ve been to Prescott, Show Low, Flagstaff, Tuba City, Yuma in the last five days. So I jump in a little plane and fly out there and meet people and do it over and over again.”

Speaking to reporters last week in Phoenix, Hobbs was asked a similar question. “Sen. Sinema said she voted for me,” Hobbs said. “We welcome any support and I’m glad to have Senator Sinem’s support.”

Of course, Sinema’s absence from the campaign caused a known reaction pattern for a figure who in the last two years has seemingly not missed an opportunity to cross paths with members of his party.

The senator moves to block the agenda of the party in the Senate 50-50 and to reshape key legislation in her vision have poisoned her relationship with many Democrats—including the state party itself, which voted in January to formally censure Sinema after she opposed ending Senate rule.

But, as is often the case with Sinema, it’s not just what she does, but how she does it. For example, some of her critics took it to heart she made more public appearances with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell this campaign season than with the Arizona Democratic candidates. In September, she gave a speech at McConnell’s foundation in Kentucky, which was filled with mutual praise between the two.

If the likes of Kari Lake and Blake Masters win on Election Day, those kinds of optics could deal another blow to Sinema’s standing among Arizona Democrats — just before she’s expected to launch her 2024 re-election campaign.

“The MAGA extremist list could do well in Arizona on November 8,” said Chris Herstam, a state legislator and former supporter of Sinema’s who has since become a vocal critic. “But Kyrsten Sinema could care less.”

In response to questions for this story, a Sinema spokesman said the senator has been fundraising for Kelly through events, calls and emails. They referred The Daily Beast to a statement Sinema gave to The Arizona Republic, in which she called Kelly “a great partner in our work to secure the border, strengthen Arizona’s water future and lower prices for everyday Arizona families

“I was proud to support his 2020 campaign,” Sinema said, “and I’m laser-focused on keeping him in the Senate.”

As for Hobbs, Sinema told HuffPost that “Arizonians vote for the candidate they believe best represents Arizona’s values, and that’s why I voted for Katie Hobbs for governor.”

There is no indication that Sinema is refusing requests from Democrats to campaign for them, but there is also no indication that she is being pressured to take on a more visible role.

Still, neither Kelly nor Hobbs are strangers. Kelly is her Senate colleague and has been a fixture in Arizona politics for years because of his wife, former congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Like Sinema, Hobbs is a former social worker. He took over her State House district in 2011 when Sinema went to the State Senate. In the 2018 election, both scored upset victories across the state.

It may seem ironic for the Democrats who recoil at Sinema’s every move to criticize her for not appearing on the campaign trail anymore. But in an election that could be decided by a few thousand votes, many feel their candidates need all the help they can get.

Political experts in Arizona strongly believe that Sinema could provide significant help. Chuck Coughlin, a GOP pollster in Phoenix, had a quick response when asked if Democratic candidates should welcome her help: “Fuck yes, absolutely.”

Noting that Sinema has a higher approval rating among Republicans than Democrats, he said she could help boost Kelly and Hobbs’ appeal to key independent and right-wing voters.

Although her recent political moves have baffled operatives from Phoenix to Washington, Sinema is arguably the most electorally successful Arizona Democrat of the past two decades. In 2012, Sinema won the first of three highly competitive elections for the most coveted seat in the US House in Arizona. In 2018, she defeated Republican Martha McSally by about 2.5 points, becoming the first Democrat to win statewide since 2006.

Running what Atlantic called an “aggressively centrist” campaign, Sinema demonstrated early reluctance to run for fellow Arizona Democrats in 2018. She was the only major Democratic candidate not to endorse the party’s gubernatorial nominee, David Garcia, which drew boos from liberal commentators before he suffered a landslide defeat by Gov. Doug Ducey. (Garcia, for what it’s worth, did not endorse Sinem.)

Because of her opposition to a number of Democratic priorities over the past two years, Sinema has seen her support among Democratic voters erode — but has seen her appeal among Republicans grow.

Brian, a middle-aged man who works in scientific sales and declined to give his last name, showed up at a Scottsdale polling station last week to vote for Masters, Kelly’s opponent. Ali told the Daily Beast that he would likely vote for Sinema in 2024.

Even Masters hasn’t been immune to the GOP’s admiration for Sinema, as his opponent is going without her. On Wednesday, he told the Daily Mail that Sinema was “a very talented politician. She is good. She is active. She is really actively engaged.”

Of course, Arizona’s dynamics are different from those of other battleground states, but the active campaign schedule of Sinema’s fellow Senate Democrats makes her absence all the more noticeable.

In Pennsylvania, arguably the most contested state in the 2022 election, Sen. Bob Casey has been a key surrogate for Senate candidate John Fetterman. In closely divided Wisconsin, Sen. Tammy Baldwin spoke at Obama’s Democratic rally in Milwaukee and campaigned with Senate candidate Mandela Barnes.

In Georgia, Sen. Jon Ossoff resumed his 2020 co-campaign with Sen. Raphael Warnock, and in New Hampshire, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is spending the final days of the campaign alongside Sen. Maggie Hassan.

One particularly telling tidbit: Casey gave more to the Arizona Democratic Party than Sinema this year, cutting a $10,000 check to the organization. Sinema did not donate at all to the party that condemned it in January.

With Election Day just days away and early voting underway, Sinema’s course is unlikely to change now, especially after she skipped Wednesday’s event with Obama.

But observers say that may not have just encouraged Democrats to get Sinema involved — it may have helped itself. One of the speakers at Obama’s rally, Gallego, is Sinema’s potential main opponent in 2024, and he has already publicly blamed her for the lack of public involvement in the campaign.

Coughlin, the GOP pollster, said it would be a “win-win” for Sinema to campaign with fellow Democrats because it would “improve her toxicity with Democrats.”

Paraphrasing her potential thinking, he said, “If I can show that we can win on a ticket like this, then they’re less likely to be antagonistic toward me.”

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