Democrats plan to spoil Sinema's reelection, hand seat to the GOP
A Democratic candidate would be very unlikely to topple an incumbent Senator - but very likely to split the anti-Republican vote.
Kyrsten Sinema has left the Democratic Party. And Democrats in the state have already signaled that they still plan to support a candidate against her, according to The New York Times. Once-likely primary opponent Ruben Gallego, for example, immediately sent out a mass text signaling that he is “thinking of running.”
I think we can all agree that in a perfect world, the left could do much better than politicians like Sinema. But unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. For one thing, in conservative states like Arizona, moderates like Sinema are probably as good as it gets for anyone outside of the GOP. Even more importantly, being an incumbent will give Sinema an effectively insurmountable advantage: over the past twenty years, Senators have had a nearly 90% re-election rate.
So while Democrats are unlikely to defeat Sinema in a general election, they’re very likely to take votes away from her — and put the Republican candidate in office. Don’t believe me? Just look at what happened last time, when another candidate almost spoiled Sinema’s election.
Angela Green falls in line
On November 1nd 2018, things were looking grim for Democrats. The election was just four days away, it was an extremely tight race, and Sinema had fallen a point behind Republican nominee Martha McSally. Meanwhile, Green Party candidate Angela Green was clearly polling ahead of that margin of difference, quite possibly in the 7% range. Democrats were furious:
So furious, in fact, that Green would drop out that very day. “No 3rd party candidate should have to endure accusations of being 'spoilers' just because the 'winner takes all' two party system is severely broken,” she announced on her website. Democrats, of course, applauded the decision:
From rank-and-file voters like Morgan and party luminaries like Tribe we heard all of the standard points. Green knew she was unlikely to win; defeating the Republican was the priority; and that meant that it was just to risky for a challenger to stay in the race.
The story hasn’t changed
Again: all three of those points still hold in 2024. If you think that running as a Democrat is a more powerful advantage than incumbency, just ask Angus King’s Democratic challenger in 2018, Zak Ringelstein (10.5%). Or Joe Lieberman’s 2006 challenger Ned Lamont (39.7%).
Since her announcement, Democrats have been passing around a Civiqs poll putting her approval at 18%, leading liberal pundits like Josh Marshall to claim that “In a closely divided state there’s a very good chance that [running a Democrat] gives the seat to the GOP. But…there’s an even better chance that Sinema is a distant third.” But Civiqs seems to be a serious outlier among pollsters right now; most polls put her approval closer to 38% (Morning Consult), 37% (AARP), and 42% (Data for Progress). This puts her approval rating in the range of Senators like Lisa Murkowski (38%), who won a three-way re-election race for her seat just last month, or Joe Lieberman, who was at 40% when he won re-election, with stronger support from Republicans than Democrats. Neither of these analogies are dispositive since they are both to relatively partisan states; but they do demonstrate that favorability numbers like Sinema’s don’t at all imply a necessary defeat.
Meanwhile, as terrible as Sinema’s politics are, it would be absurd to suggest that her politics are more out of step with the Democratic Party than her likely Republican opponents. Her DW-NOMINATE score of 0.105 makes her more liberal than 51% of the Senate, and she’s voted with Democrats about 97% of the time, making her more loyal than the average Senator.Her potential opponents, meanwhile, include a whole villain's row of radicals: Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lab, Peter Thiel protege Blake Masters, and ambitious House hardliner Andy Biggs.
Democrats have always insisted that the Vote Blue No Matter Who strategy isn’t a partisan demand to submit or an ideological maneuver to shut out left-flank opposition; it’s just a pragmatic recognition of electoral reality. That’s why the left shouldn’t even try to run independent and third party candidates. That’s why we have to resign ourselves to President Manchin running the country. And that’s why we were supposed to vote for Sinema just four years ago.
The 2024 elections in Arizona will be a completely unambiguous test of what Democrats really believe. If they’re truly committed to rallying behind the most electable opponent of the GOP, Sinema is the obvious choice. Personally, I hope they decide to risk a Republican win for a better candidate; but if they get to take that risk, seems like independents and third parties should get to take the same risk too.
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