Sinema Rebounds

The most interesting impending Senate race to date is unfolding in Arizona, and a new poll already suggests the close three-way finish that many are predicting will occur in November of 2024.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema leaving the Democratic Party to run as an Independent is likely her best scenario in which to win re-election. It was clear that she could not secure re-nomination in the Democratic Party, especially against a strong opponent such as Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Phoenix) who has since become an official candidate.

The Republican situation is unclear, but the Arizona GOP will produce a nominee capable of at least securing the Republican base vote. In a three-way race where all the major participants have a victory path, virtually any outcome can occur under yet-to-be-defined circumstances.

The Normington Petts survey research firm recently conducted a poll (1/18-23; 800 AZ registered voters) for three progressive left Arizona organizations testing Rep. Gallego opposite Sen. Sinema, and both 2022 Arizona gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake (R), who has not closed the door on running for the Senate, and former Gov. Doug Ducey (R), who says a Senate race is not even a point under his consideration.

While the poll sponsors were highlighting Gallego’s performance, it is Sinema’s standing that has greatly improved since previous polls were made public. In the configuration with Rep. Gallego and Ms. Lake, Sen. Sinema, while still running in third place, improves her standing to 24% as opposed to 14 and 13% in December and early January polls that Public Policy Polling and Blueprint Polling released. Rep. Gallego and Ms. Lake were tied at 36% apiece.

When Normington Petts tested Sen. Sinema with Rep. Gallego and former Gov. Ducey, the Congressman held a 37-31-27% advantage over the GOP ex-state chief executive, and Sen. Sinema, respectively. Notably, the progression suggests that Sen. Sinema is coming into a competitive position as the prospective candidates begin to prepare for a long three-way race.

Sen. Sinema has not yet announced that she will seek re-election, but her change of partisan status to Independent is a strong clue that she will run. Otherwise, there was little reason for her to leave the Democratic Party since her ideology and vote pattern continues to remain consistent with her liberal roots.

The earlier polls, while possibly accurate at the time they were conducted, did not accurately portray Sinema’s underlying strength. It was difficult to believe that she had dropped to low double-digit support based upon her reasoning for making procedural moves within the Senate surrounding protecting the filibuster and opposing one of the major spending and tax measures.

As the campaign progresses, we will likely see Gallego move further to the left because he will need strong energized support from the Democratic base. Sinema’s gain in the Normington Petts survey when compared to the PPP and Blueprint earlier studies, is largely coming from Democrats who previously supported her. Therefore, Gallego, assuming he doesn’t receive a major challenge for the party nomination in August of 2024, will have no choice but to strengthen his position with the far left in order to maximize turnout within this electoral segment.

Remember, in this type of election campaign, the three major candidates will be vying to get to 35% of the vote, and not 50%. Therefore, each political strategy will be very different than we typically see in a regular two-way electoral contest.

Rep. Gallego moving further left, however, also becomes a double-edged sword. The further he ventures potentially frees additional moderate Democratic support to float to Sinema. This, and improving her positioning within the self-identified Independent sector, which in Arizona is a full third of the electorate, would bring her into parity with the two major party candidates.

For the Republicans, speculation about the leadership attempting to recruit freshman Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R-Tucson) into the Senate race is beginning to surface. With his tight victory in the politically marginal 6th District against a strong Democratic opponent and his potential appeal within the statewide Hispanic community, Rep. Ciscomani would certainly be a Republican candidate who could win a general election in a three-way scenario.

It remains to be seen if he would risk the congressional seat he just won to attempt a statewide run so quickly. Former gubernatorial candidate Lake may become a candidate, but if the party leaders can clear the field for Ciscomani, he would likely be the premier contender that the GOP could field.

There are many moving parts in this early jockeying period from the Grand Canyon State. The most recent survey proves not that Rep. Gallego is in the strongest position, as the poll sponsors promote, but that Sen. Sinema is coming back into play as a potential winning candidate. The Republican saga, however, will require much more time to settle.

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