The surprise announcement by Arizona Senator Kyrsten
Sinema that she has left the Democratic Party, and is
now formally an independent was particularly curious
because of its timing just after the national mid-term
elections in which the Democrats regained by one seat
control the U.S. senate.
Her explanation that she will not now caucus with the
Republicans, and will continue to vote as she has in
the past, makes her action all the more ambiguous.
There are two other “independents” currently in the
U.S. senate, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus
King of Maine, but they are rightly described as
“independents-in-name-only” since they support the
Democratic leadership and almost always vote with
Senator Sinema has proven to be an always shrewd
political figure, so what are the real reasons for making
the announcement at this time?
It would seem that her motivation was driven by the
political environment in Arizona where in two years she
is scheduled to run for re-election.
Arizona has been generally a red state, but Republican
factionalism has led the party to lose several recent
statewide elections, including a Democratic sweep in
2022. Sinema’s independent voting record since
taking office has made political sense for the general
electorate, but has understandably upset some Arizona
Democratic figures, some of whom have said she should
be opposed in the 2024 Democratic primary. At least one
prominent Democratic congressman is likely to do so.
By declaring as an independent, Sinema makes it
virtually impossible for any Democrat to win in a
three-way race. Sistema’s strategy seems to be that
no major liberal figure, especially a sitting member of
Congress (who would have to give up a safe seat to
run), would seek their party nomination in 2024. In
that case, Sinema with her independent voting
record drawing support from many GOP voters,
could win a three-way race with a weak Democratic
nominee and the state GOP still divided as it has been
in the recent past. Moreover, Sinema has the option
of changing her mind and caucusing with the
Republicans, thus heading off a potentially serious
GOP challenger in 2024.
It is, of course, a risky strategy, but if Sinema has
assessed she would likely lose in a 2024 Democratic
primary, it might well be her best option, especially
if her eventual move to caucus with the GOP would
give them control of the U.S. senate.
The latter possibility is heightened by the prospects
of the other Democratic senate maverick, West
Virginia’s Joe Manchin. Manchin also is up in 2024,
and faces a serious challenge then — after he ended
up supporting the Democratic infrastructure
legislation (in return for concessions that were
reneged). His popularity in West Virginia has seemed
to nosedive after this happened, and his best hope for
re-election might be to change parties. His doing so,
and coupled with Sistema, would give Republicans
senate control before 2024 when GOP prospects are
All of this is speculative. of course, but it does seem
clear that Senator Sistema is playing some kind of
political chess in Arizona. She has also taken some of
the celebratory edge off the Democrats’ run-off victory
in Georgia, and made Majority Leader Schumer’s
life more complicated.
Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.