Sharpe to the Point: Be Careful What You Primary For

Jim SharpeNovember 4, 2021
Share This

A recent New York Times headline read, “Kyrsten Sinema is the key to President Biden’s agenda in Washington. Some Arizonans wish she weren’t.”

“Some,” in this case, are the Democrats who think our state magically turned blue between 2018 and 2020. Unfortunately for them, yelling at the senior senator from Arizona until they’re blue in the face won’t make their blue dreams come true. It could hurt their cause, in fact.

Sinema’s tendency to negotiate from a center-right position over Biden’s huge proposed spending bills is making some Democrats hot under the collar. It started with her curtsying opposition to the minimum wage increase and refusal to abolish the Senate filibuster last spring, and has reached a white-hot pitch since.

That flame of discontent may ignite a primary challenge. And could blow up in Democrats’ faces. 

Granted, there’s a lot of time until the 2024 primary, when Sinema is up for reelection. A lot of time to make amends. But what if Democrats do muster a legitimate primary challenger, like, say, U.S. Congressman Ruben Gallego? Something called Nuestro PAC claims it’s working to convince Gallego to primary Sinema.

She might be vulnerable. According to a recent OH Predictive Insights poll, only 56 percent of Arizona Democrats view Sinema favorably. Bad but even worse when compared to fellow Democratic Senator Mark Kelly’s numbers: He’s viewed favorably by almost 80 percent of Dems.

Buuuut… Sinema scores high in some places you might not expect: Majorities of rural Arizona county voters, 55-plus voters and men view Sinema favorably. And listen to this: Half of self-described Fox News viewers and 40 percent of Republican voters say they view Sinema favorably. (If “Not Nearly As Bad As I Thought She’d Be” was a survey option, it would be up around 80 percent, I’d wager.)

Sinema knows winning over the middle is much more important than being popular with the cool kids. To that point: If the Democrats are successful in knocking her off the ticket and replacing her with a more liberal candidate, you can bet that moderate support will vanish quicker than free doughnuts in the break room. How does “U.S. Senator Paul Gosar” sound to you, Democrats? That’s where these primary hijinks could lead.

All in all, I’d bet Sinema is relishing the fact that the original “maverick,” Senator John McCain – whom she openly idolizes – also had members of his political party grumbling loudly about his centrist views. Maybe we’ll start calling her “mavericky” if she rolls over multiple primary opponents like a speed bump on her way to a general election victory in 2024. Or maybe we’ll wait until after she wins her third term. Because McCain won six.

For more than 50 years, PHOENIX magazine's experienced writers, editors, and designers have captured all sides of the Valley with award-winning and insightful writing, and groundbreaking report and design. Our expository features, narratives, profiles, and investigative features keep our 385,000 readers in touch with the Valley's latest trends, events, personalities and places.