‘Political earthquake’: Arizona experts weigh in on Sen. Sinema jumping ship to independents

Dec 9, 2022, 1:00 PM

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)...

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

PHOENIX – Two Arizona political strategists said U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s switch from the Democratic Party to independent status took courage but only time will tell whether it hurts her career.

Sinema said Friday she was resigning from the Democrats to register as an independent. The first-term senator said registering as an independent was a reflection of herself and Arizona.

“She’s the senior senator of the Democratic Party in Arizona and she’s going to trade that away on principle. It’s a political earthquake … it is a Richter scale 10,” Republican Stan Barnes of Phoenix-based Copper State Consulting told KTAR News 92.3 Fm’s Arizona’s Morning News after the announcement.

“It’s got to be the boldest single move I’ve seen by an Arizona politician ”

“But she’s made it more difficult for herself.”

Sinema said she doesn’t plan to caucus with Republicans and expects to maintain her committee assignments through the Democratic majority, according to a Senate Democratic aide.

“Wow. This takes a lot of courage on her part,” said Chuck Coughlin, a Republican who runs the Phoenix consulting group HighGround Inc.

He told Arizona’s Morning News in a separate interview the move wasn’t a complete surprise to him.

Coughlin said he began wondering last year whether “the problems the Democrats were causing her in the Democratic Party would prompt her to look at her options.”

Sinema made waves within the party earlier this year when she rejected wishes to vote for filibuster reforms to overcome Republican opposition to a voting rights bill.

She was censured by the state Democratic Party shortly after that.

“It would be so much safer for Sinema to ride the horse she’s on. Instead, she’s going to be, what amounts to in Arizona, the first person of prominence and relevance to step into that middle,” Barnes said.

“She may get the fantastic reward, politically, for doing it. But I think her [reelection] chances went down.”

Sinema has not said whether she’ll run again. Her term ends in January 2025.

Democrats will still have a narrow 51-49 edge in January after Sen. Raphael Warnock won Georgia’s runoff election on Tuesday.

“Let’s say Warnock would have lost: would she have done this? It would have lost the Democratic majority – that would have cost her a lot,” Coughlin said.

“But with Warnock’s win in Georgia it gives her some room to breathe, it allows her to move into that space, where she’s very comfortable, being an independent voice for Arizona and not being held hostage by either party.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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‘Political earthquake’: Arizona experts weigh in on Sen. Sinema jumping ship to independents