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Senator Kyrsten Sinema Declares ‘Independent’, Quits Democrats: NPR

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Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing to consider the impact of social media on homeland security, Sept. 14, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

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Senator Kyrsten Sinema Declares 'Independent', Quits Democrats: NPR

Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing to consider the impact of social media on homeland security, Sept. 14, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Alex Brandon/AP

Senator Kyrsten Sinema has always walked at her own pace.

It is therefore not shocking that she decided this week to officially leave the Democratic Party to become an independent.

“Arizonans are strong and independent.”

“A fiercely independent record.”

“Independent, just like Arizona.”

These are not quotes from his Friday announcement. These were from one of his widely circulated senatorial campaign ads in 2018 (which is still at the top of his YouTube page).

Passing herself off as an “independent” has been part of her brand for some time – despite her early days as a liberal activist.

She’s not the first senator to switch parties — Vermont’s Jim Jeffords defected from the GOP more than 20 years ago, giving Democrats control of the Senate.

Facing a tough re-election, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania left the Republican Party in 2009 to become a Democrat. (Democrat Al Franken’s victory in Minnesota then gave Democrats a 60-vote filibuster majority that helped pass the Affordable Care Act.)

After running for vice president for the Democratic Party in 2004, hawk Joe Lieberman of Connecticut flew to become an independent in 2006. The writing was on the wall for a time with Lieberman and the Democrats. When he visited Arizona in 2003, for example, just as the war in Iraq was beginning – a war he voted for and defended – he was met with anti-war protests.

“It’s a disgrace to Democrats,” the protest organizer said. “I don’t even know why he’s running. He seems to want Republicans to vote for him – what kind of strategy is that?”

This protester? None other than Kyrsten Sinema.

Ironically, while she hopes her decision to drop the “D” next to her name will strengthen her brand at home, it could contribute to a Republican being elected senator from Arizona in 2024.

No room for moderates?

Concretely, the deregistration will not change much on Capitol Hill. Because incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock won his runoff in Georgia, Democrats still have firm control of the chamber, 50-49.

Sinema says she hasn’t made up her mind because of the Warnock win, but the moment she keeps her Senate committee assignments through Democrats and won’t be caucusing with Republicans, suggests opposite.

Sinema also says that this decision suits him more ideologically. This, some may see as evidence of a lack of ideological diversity within the Democratic Party.

But as the party has become more liberal over the past 50 years and the two parties have become more ideologically cohesive, Republicans have come a long way After conservatives that Democrats turned liberal around this time, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema Declares 'Independent', Quits Democrats: NPR

Pew notes:

“Five decades ago, 144 House Republicans were less conservative than the most conservative Democrat, and 52 House Democrats were less liberal than the most liberal Republican, according to the analysis. But this area of ​​ideological overlap has started to shrink…

“Since 2002, … there has been no overlap between the less liberal Democrats and the less conservative Republicans in the House. In the Senate, the end of the overlap came in 2004, when Democrat Zell Miller of Georgia took Since then, the gaps between the less conservative Republicans and the less liberal Democrats in both the House and Senate have widened, making it less and less likely that there is common ground to find.”

Vote with Democrats most of the time

Going forward, Sinema says she will not attend Democratic caucus meetings, although unlike fellow independents Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine, Sinema has rarely done so anyway.

Sinema has been a thorn in the party’s side on some major bills. The Arizona Democratic Party censured her for her opposition to the filibuster amendment. But she actually voted with Democrats on most — almost all — things.

She voted with the party 93% of the time, which isn’t even the lowest of other Democrats (or those who caucus with them). Meaning. Sanders, Nevada’s Jackie Rosen, Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto, Montana’s Jon Tester and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin all voted with the party to a lesser, albeit slight, degree, by a tally of 538.

So what is it really about?

It’s certainly good publicity for someone with a low approval rating – only 37% overall, including 41% freelancers, approved of the work Sinema was doing, according to a bipartisan survey by Impact Research. and Fabrizio Ward.

It must also appeal to independents and moderate Republicans, because Arizona is a state where they matter a lot. More than a third of voters in the state identify as “other” and Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 166,000.

Fellow Arizona Democrat Senator Mark Kelly in his successful re-election campaign this year also appealed to the middle, divorcing himself from the border policies of the Biden administration, for example.

But it is not at all clear that, politically, Sinema’s tactics will benefit her as much as she would like.

Complicated politics

One of the advantages is that by declaring herself independent and deregistering with the Democratic Party, she would avoid this primary competition and buy herself a direct pass for the general election, provided she can meet the threshold of signing higher for an independent to qualify. to appear on the ballot.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema Declares 'Independent', Quits Democrats: NPR

Representative Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona, speaks during a hearing on July 9, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

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Senator Kyrsten Sinema Declares 'Independent', Quits Democrats: NPR

Representative Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona, speaks during a hearing on July 9, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Greg Nash/AP

“Last month, Arizona voters made their voices heard loud and clear — they want leaders who put Arizonans first,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona, someone of a progressive who demands to see Sinema challenged in a primary. He added, “[A]At a time when our nation needs leadership the most, Arizona deserves a voice that won’t back down in the face of struggle. Unfortunately, Senator Sinema is once again putting her own interests ahead of getting things done for Arizonans.”

The reality is that Sinema is less popular in the state than Kelly or Biden, and Democratic polls have shown her beaten in a hypothetical matchup with Gallego in a Democratic primary.

So going “independent” might be her only path to a general election. But there is no guarantee that an independent Sinema candidacy would win re-election.

What is true in politics is that you have to start with a base of support. Sinema’s abandonment of the Democratic Party could further alienate him from the voters who once made up that base.

National Democrats will also have a decision to make — whether to back a “Democrat” in Arizona’s 2024 Senate election or back Sinema.

There is a real danger here both for the party and for Sinema. Supporting someone wearing the team jersey could jeopardize the Democrats’ chances of retaining the seat. It is very likely that his candidacy would draw more from the Democratic candidate and pave the way for a Republican to win with a simple plurality.

But backing Sinema could enrage the Democratic base and potentially cost them the seat.

Without party support, Sinema could find itself in a sort of political no-man’s land. But she is betting that her brand will be enough to attract moderates on both sides.

It’s going to be a tough test, especially since Sinema is widely unpopular.

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