This past week, Arizona U. S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema announced that she will no longer call herself a Democrat. Instead, she intends to call herself an “independent.” See, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/09/us/politics/kyrsten-sinema-arizona-senate-democrats.html
Given the timing of her announcement—coming as it did immediately after the victory of Sen. Raphael Warnock in Georgia—Spirited Reasoners can be forgiven for wondering whether her announcement might betray a touch of spite. “What? Think you can fashion a Democratic majority without me? I’ll show you!”
But that sort of suspicion rings hollow. Given Sen. Sinema’s track record of voting along with her Democratic colleagues most of the time, but against them every so often on key legislation, one could argue that there was never a reliable majority of Democrats in the Senate in the first place. In fact, rather than empowering herself, the main beneficiary of her announcement appears to be Sen. Joe Manchin, who now finds himself, at least for the next two years, as the holder of the balance of power whenever the Democrats need a 50th vote to send tiebreakers to Vice President Kamala Harris.
A better explanation for her decision runs as follows: She could read the writing on the wall. Democrats in Arizona were preparing to oppose her in the 2024 primaries. Recent polls (see the N.Y. Times article, above) indicate that she is extremely unpopular among Democrats there. Thus, rather than face an early primary loss, she has calculated that her chances of reelection become better if she runs as an independent.
She might be right. But, having seen the way voters in Oregon treated a Democrat-turned-Independent in this past month’s gubernatorial election, Spirited Reasoners have our doubts. In that race, the independent, Betsy Johnson, was polling in the high teens against her Democratic and Republican opponents and appeared to be building momentum. However, when the last vote was counted, her final percentage came to less than 9% of the vote. She seemed to run as many campaign ads as her opponents. So what went wrong?
What really mattered were the efforts of the two major parties to get out the vote.
Can Sen. Sinema, running as an independent, really build a grass roots organization large enough to get voters to the polls the way organized Democrats and Republicans have done it for decades?
But regardless of the turnout, much will depend upon the quality of the candidates she is up against. If Republicans nominate an election denying pro-Trumper while Democrats nominate an anti-police Progressive, then the middle ground might be just wide enough for her to skate through to victory. If, on the other hand, either party (or both) nominates a sensible moderate, then her days in the Senate could be numbered.