Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s memo to donors mapping out her path to winning re-election next year reads like political fantasy.
I suppose anything is possible in politics with voter suppression and loads of cash at one’s disposal. So Sinema, an Arizona Democrat-turned-independent, seems to have at least a couple of things going for her if and when she formally jumps into the 2024 race.
But Sinema’s plan, pitched to donors and first reported by NBC News on Monday, requires a belief that she can piece together a coalition never seen before in Arizona politics. I’m skeptical — and I also think the data Team Sinema cites as evidence helps explain some of her most troubling political behavior over the last few years. So let’s take a look.
As NBC News reports:
In a two-page prospectus obtained by NBC News, Sinema charts out a path to victory as an independent candidate in Arizona, with a glimpse of her possible campaign message and new details about the unique cross-party coalition she would seek to build in the competitive state. Under the banner “Kyrsten’s Path to Victory,” the document says Sinema can win by attracting 10% to 20% of Democrats, 60% to 70% of independents and 25% to 35% of Republicans. Alongside a headshot of her and a section titled “Kyrsten Will Win Arizona,” the document says: “If the parties nominate extremists, as expected, Kyrsten will win a majority of IND, at least a third of REP and a percentage of DEM voters — making her the first Independent to win a three-way statewide race in American history.”
For reference, according to 2018 exit polls, Sinema won 97% of Democrats, 12% of Republicans and 50% of voters identified as independent or something else. So her plan would require a complete overhaul of her voter base.
A few things jump off the page for me, as someone who spent a good amount of time working in and around Arizona politics. The first would be Sinema angling to win more Republicans than Democrats. This should come as no surprise to ReidOut Blog regulars — or anyone who’s watched Sinema obstruct President Joe Biden’s agenda and embrace conservatives during her first Senate term.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve written a fair amount on how Sinema’s opposition to voting rights legislation — desperately needed in Arizona to protect Democratic-leaning voter blocs — was effectively gaming the system to allow her to run a more conservative re-election campaign. Perhaps, she wasn't eager to protect those voters because she didn't think she'd need them all that much come 2024.
Another thing that struck me was the claim that Sinema will win 60%-70% of unaffiliated voters in a three-way race, which seems like extreme wishcasting. On paper, it may sound logical that an independent candidate would win an overwhelming majority of unaffiliated (or independent) voters. After all, they dislike party affiliations in the same way Sinema does, right? And since these voters make up the largest voting bloc in Arizona (outnumbering registered Democrats and Republicans), shouldn’t we think this bodes well for Sinema’s re-election?
There’s ample evidence to suggest unaffiliated voters in a broad sense are more partisan than their lack of labels suggests, and experts have said this appears to be the case in Arizona.
Cronkite News, the news division of Arizona's public broadcasting service, explored in August the various reasons voters may choose not to identify with a party: “Some are simply tired of the major parties, others don’t want to be labeled and younger voters seem to prefer to be unaffiliated."
Any assumption such a group would overwhelmingly vote for Sinema sounds fanciful — and that’s before we address her stubbornly high unfavorability numbers. It's certainly possible she will shock the country and ride this unique strategy to a second term. But crunching the numbers in her memo, I'm left with one takeaway: The math simply isn't adding up.