Friday, December 9, 2022


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

the Democrats.

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.

Dominoes, anyone?


Copyright (c) 2022 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved. 

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