Sinema remains Dems' best hope for 2024
Her policy preferences are far closer to those of the Democrats than those of the Republicans.
More than a year ago, I wrote a column for the Arizona Republic making the case that Kyrsten Sinema would do herself a favor and the state a service if she re-registered as an independent and ran for re-election as such.
She has taken the first step. Here’s hoping she takes the second.
That’s not because I agree with Sinema on policy. I disagree far more than I agree, including on the bipartisan compromises she has been highly successful in shepherding into law.
However, the two-party system is badly serving the nation and the state. Sinema has the stature and could command the resources to make a credible run for re-election as an independent, creating a useful fissure in the two-party duopoly.
The favor she has done herself is liberating her next two years from the pressures from the hard left and the threat of a primary challenge.
Sinema has conducted herself in office precisely as she told Arizona voters she would. She didn’t run as a partisan Democrat. Instead, she said she would be a bipartisan problem-solver. And she has been remarkably productive as such.
As a matter of political calculation, Sinema declaring herself a candidate for re-election as an independent would render the Democratic nomination for the office useless. Sinema would remain the Democrats’ best shot at retaining the seat.
In Washington, there has been some dancing around the question of what Sinema re-registering as an independent really means. Sinema’s spokesperson said she hasn’t and won’t caucus with the Democrats, in the sense that she doesn’t attend their strategy sessions. But, in all the ways that are consequential, she has and will caucus with the Democrats.
The Senate operates on a binary system. The party leaders assign committee seats. After Sinema’s registration switch, committee seats are still going to be divvied up based upon Democrats holding the majority. And Sinema keeps her committee assignments as made by Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
If Sinema were to be re-elected as an independent, she would undoubtedly continue to caucus with the Democrats in these consequential ways. Her policy preferences are far closer to those of the Democrats than those of the Republicans.
On social issues, such as abortion and gay rights, Sinema is hard left herself. She supports identity politics generally.
She voted for Biden’s budget-busting and inflation-inducing Covid relief bill. And for the green energy subsidy bill fraudulently labeled the Inflation Reduction Act.
There is something that’s been overlooked in her bipartisan legislative successes: They mostly involved getting some Republicans to support what are primarily Democratic priorities. Virtually all Democrats have voted for the bills and most Republicans have voted against them. But enough Republicans have supported her bipartisan compromises to overcome a filibuster.
In general, Sinema believes that the federal government should do more to help more people in more ways. She’s pragmatic about it. But that’s a general philosophy that will always be more comfortable, given a binary choice, in the Democratic ranks than the Republican ones.
Democrats will have a hard time keeping the Senate in 2024. They are defending more seats, and more vulnerable ones, than the Republicans. They will badly need to retain Sinema’s seat.
Since Sinema remains their best bet to do so, there’s been speculation that Democrats will clear the field for her and not put up a substantial Democratic nominee. I doubt that’s in the cards. Woke progressives will want their own candidate in the race and will convince themselves that their candidate can win despite Sinema being on the ballot. Clearing the field for Sinema would be too bitter of a pill for them to swallow.
So, national left-leaning support and money will likely be split. Ideologues will support whichever woke progressive wins the Democratic nomination. Pragmatic, left-leaning Democrats and groups will be tempted to place a bet on Sinema.
As a pro-business Democrat, Sinema can raise the funds as an independent necessary to make her case to voters irrespective of what left-leaning outside groups end up doing.
I think her prospects for success are being misanalyzed in some quarters. Polls indicate that she is net disapproved in virtually all voter demographic groups. So, goes the analysis, where does she go to get votes?
All politicians want to be liked. However, it is only necessary to be preferred to the alternatives. She has the potential to be preferred by some of those who disapprove of her performance in office if the alternatives are a Bernie Sanders Democrat and a Donald Trump Republican.
Moreover, in a three-way race, she doesn’t need a majority. She probably wins comfortably if she can get to 40% of the vote. She has around 35% approval in most voter demographic groups. That’s a decent base from which to build if 40% gets the job done. She even has a shot at achieving that if Republican primary voters reverse course and nominate a pragmatic conservative rather than a MAGA flame-thrower.
While I mostly still disagree with Sinema on policy, I’ve gone from being skeptical to accepting her as a true believer in bipartisan governance. Regardless of how the politics work out, she’s now free to be who she wants to be, and to conduct herself in office as she told Arizona voters she would, while ignoring those on the hard left who want to punish her for it.
Reach Robb at email@example.com.