Fresh off his big win in Georgia, incumbent Democratic Senate Campaign Committee Chairman Gary Peters (D-Mich.) pointedly objected to a question about Sinema: “At this time, I’m really happy to say that that is the job of the next DSCC president. Peters added that he will not return to the DSCC for a second term, despite the pleas of his colleagues.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, as well as Peters’ successor as campaign leader, must already convince the senses. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) to run again in 2024. Arizona vows to field a hurdle regardless of the slate, challenging Democrats to keep the peace with a liberal base who opposes Sinema while acknowledging that a divided party may struggle to win general elections in the state.
“They will have to make a phone call. It will be a difficult decision, probably… the norm is that the DSCC protects the incumbents. I don’t think that will change. But it’s not my decision,” Tester, himself a former campaign chairman, said Monday. He added that “of course” he sees Sinema as an outgoing party: Maine Independent Sen. « Angus [King] is. She caucus with us. She holds.
Sinema does not quite agree with King on one point: she will not attend caucus meetings. Still, by accepting her committee assignments from Democrats, the party believes she will functionally convey a 51-seat majority with her vote for the next two years.
That’s why Tester sees Sinema more like King, who won two races against nominal Democratic opposition. The National Party refused to field candidates against King and attacked his GOP opponent in 2012.
Sinema’s political personality is much more complex, however. Many progressives hate her, hurting her numbers among Arizona Democrats and fueling Gallego’s potential Senate ambitions. On the other hand, she was the first Democratic Senate winner from the state in 30 years when she prevailed in 2018 – with the support of the DSCC. She also enjoys more cross-party appeal than most senators.
“I’ll wait to answer that question until she decides what she’s going to do,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), former DSCC chairwoman and outgoing party leadership. , about Sinema’s future support. “I think she’s a very good legislator.”
Like Murray, the White House and Schumer have praised Sinema since switching parties, keeping her on good terms and refusing to alienate a critical swing-state senator. Sinema has nearly $8 million and declined to say whether she will run again.
The past two election cycles have shown that every Senate race is crucial to building a lasting majority. And the Democrats are about to enter a cycle that will see them play defense in three red states, in addition to several other potentially competitive races. Schumer has given no timeline as to when he will make his selection to lead the DSCC, but his Democrats aren’t exactly openly pushing for the job.
Democrats “probably think that, while it doesn’t change much today, that Ruben Gallego and Sinema are splitting the Democratic vote and making it easier for Republicans to win…that’s a plausible scenario,” Sen. John Cornyn said. (R-Texas), a close ally of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Cornyn and McConnell both praised Sinema on Monday, a signal that Republicans will have to make their own decisions. Many Senate Republicans view Sinema as a close friend, complicating decisions on how hard it is to try to oust him in a battleground state they don’t technically need to overthrow the chamber.
Incoming Republican National Senate Committee Chairman Steve Daines (R-Mont.) revealed little about his party’s plans for the copper state. He said Republicans “will be watching Arizona closely” and said “it will be a competitive state in 2024.” Cornyn said he was “sure there will be a Republican nominee.”
Democrats have gained momentum in Arizona in recent years as Republicans struggle to nominate candidates who can appeal to a broader voter base. Fellow Democrat from Sinema’s home state, Sen. Mark Kelly, beat GOP pick Blake Masters by about 5 points in November.
During his first term, Sinema helped broker deals on gun safety with Cornyn as well as infrastructure, microchip and marriage equality deals with a group of centrist colleagues. But she has drawn ire from the left and favor from Republicans for championing the filibuster and opposing some Democratic tax policies.
Kelly said he had “no thoughts” on how the DSCC should handle his potential candidacy. And asked if she should run again, he was evasive but praised working “with her for the benefit of the people of Arizona and this country.” He called the questions about his 2024 race a “very hypothetical thing. No one has announced he’s running for anything in Arizona, as far as I know.
Gallego keeps his options open: “We definitely get the support of National Democrats if I run. I have already spoken to many National Democratic donors. From the Senate campaign committee, I can never predict,” he said on Capitol Hill Monday.
And he has sent a clear signal that he expects his party to avoid Sinema.
“A campaign like this wants to invest in someone who is going to win,” Gallego added. “There’s no possibility of Kyrsten Sinema winning as a third-party candidate…it wouldn’t be a very smart investment.”
Most Democratic senators do not approach the subject. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said “it’s way too early to think about ‘the Arizona Senate race in 2024.'” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) said that ‘she’s not going to speculate or tie the hands of the future DSCC chairman.’And Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he’s ‘not getting into the politics of Arizona”.
Even those who had a lot of nice things to say about Sinema would go no further.
“We worked on many contracts together. I don’t always agree with her, but I think she’s proven herself to be a very effective legislator,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). As for political questions about how Democrats might handle a Sinema candidacy, he silenced a reporter: “I think I gave you a lot more than you were hoping to get from me anyway.”
Nancy Vu contributed to this report.