Kelly’s Senate Race Could Act as a Referendum on Kyrsten Sinema’s Moderate Policies

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While Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is not up for reelection this year, her colleague Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) is. The contrast between the two is stark, and Arizona voters will be left to decide if Kelly’s left-leaning progressive policies are too radical for the red-leaning swing state when compared to Sinema’s centrist policies.

Sinema has found herself in the spotlight since the beginning of the 117th Congress. Like her moderate ally Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), Sinema has often broken with her party on a slew of issues ranging from taxes to the filibuster. Kelly, by contrast, has largely voted with his party.

Throughout the latter half of 2021, Sinema remained firmly opposed to her party’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act (BBB), a bill that Kelly supported. Because of objections made by both Sinema and Manchin, Democrats were ultimately forced to halve the bill to $1.85 trillion.

Sinema has said that she will not “negotiate through the press,” and during the BBB saga she largely stayed mum on her attitudes toward specific policies.

However, behind closed doors, Sinema said that she would oppose including a substantial income or corporate tax increase in the bill, which Democrats considered essential to meet their promise that the bill would be fully paid for.

Sinema has also refused to radically weaken or abolish the filibuster, which blocked Democrats from passing expansive federal voting laws. Democrats said that the process should be destroyed as a “relic of the Jim Crow era.”

Sinema, by contrast, has described the filibuster as a “tool … for the protection of the minority” and refused to accede to pressure to destroy it.

After Sinema announced her opposition to BBB and to weakening the filibuster, DNC operatives in her home state threatened a vote of no confidence against the new Arizona maverick—a threat which they carried out in January.

Since then, several progressive-leaning groups have popped up to oppose Sinema, with many eying more party-faithful Democrats to primary Sinema in 2024. The most likely candidate whose name has been tossed around is Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a progressive in the House who voted with his party to advance the $1.85 trillion spending package in late-2021.

In July 2021, following her refusal to vote down the filibuster, the left-wing polling firm Data for Progress wrote a hit-piece on the senator as part of an effort to discredit her among Democrats.

“Her dedication to preserving the filibuster has stood as a significant obstacle to enacting a number of important bills and to more general Democratic governance despite the party’s trifecta in Washington, DC,” wrote the group in a blog post.

Amid these constant attacks, Sinema’s popularity among Arizona Democrats has fallen.

According to a September 2021 opinion poll by OH Predictive Insights, roughly one-third of Arizona Democrats have an unfavorable view of Sinema.

But what ground she has lost with her own party, she has gained among independents and Republicans.

By Joseph Lord

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