Kyrsten Sinema 'Staggeringly Vulnerable' in 2024 After Filibuster Vote

Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) could be in serious danger of losing her seat after she voted against a change to the Senate filibuster rules this week that was designed to allow for the passage of voting rights legislation.

Sinema joined Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and all of the Republicans in opposing a change that would have imposed a so-called "talking filibuster" and allowed Democrats to end the debate with a simple majority rather than the usual 60 votes.

The failure to change the rules for the voting rights legislation means the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the Freedom to Vote Act are effectively dead.

Even before Sinema's vote on Wednesday, there had long been talk of a primary challenge to the Arizona Democrat and political experts who spoke to Newsweek indicated that the senator is in very real danger of losing her seat.

One name that has often been mentioned is Representative Ruben Gallego of Arizona's 7th district.

On Thursday, he refused to rule out mounting a primary challenge to Sinema.

"I'm not going to make that determination right now; the citizens of Arizona will make that determination," Gallego said, adding that the senator was "ignoring the will of her voters."

Gallego and other potential Democratic challengers appear to have a real opportunity to unseat Sinema.

Bookmakers Betfair, which operates the world's largest betting exchange, gives Sinema odds of 3/1 to lose her Senate primary. The senator's odds of losing re-election if she's the candidate in 2024 stand at 4/5.

Adding to Sinema's potential difficulties, Politico reported on Thursday that a group of big-dollar donors had threatened to cut off support for the senator because of her stance on the filibuster and the voting rights legislation.

All of these factors could contribute to Sinema's defeat in 2024—if she chooses to run again.

Preparing to Bale?

Mark Shanahan is an associate professor at the Department of Politics and International Relations at Reading University in the U.K. and co-editor of The Trump Presidency: From Campaign Trail to World Stage. He told Newsweek that Sinema looked like someone who was ready to bow out of politics.

"One wonders if Kyrsten Sinema has any intention of defending her Senate seat in 2024," Shanahan said. "Her actions at present seem like those of someone who, after two decades in state and national politics, may well be preparing to bale at the next election."

Shanahan said if Sinema "carries on this course she will be face a Democratic primary election with far stronger opponents than she faced in 2018."

"Sinema's seat will be a massive GOP target in 2024," Shanahan added. "Her strategy may be to win over independents and the pale red voters, but by opposing such key planks of the Biden platform as voting rights, she may well not even be able to mount a credible primary campaign in two years' time."

"Money talks, and unless she's suddenly going to gain some Republican donor friends, she may not have much to say," he said.

For the Filibuster

Paul Quirk, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia in Canada, told Newsweek Sinema's stance on the Senate filibuster could cost her her political career.

"It's difficult to understand Senator Sinema's hardline defense of the filibuster in terms of a career plan," Quirk said, pointing to polls showing the senator's unpopularity in Arizona.

"If Democratic fundraising groups support a primary challenge, her chances of surviving both the primary and the general election will be very slim," Quirk said.

"You can't run for election, in a purple state, as a Democrat who is OK with Republican voter suppression. There is no such lane," he warned.

Quirk said even if Sinema were to switch to the GOP, she would have no "realistic chance of re-election as a Republican."

"By this point, one has to assume that Sinema is willing to lose her Senate seat for the sake of her position on the filibuster," Quirk went on. "One could explain this attitude as a matter of principle, but it would be commitment to a peripheral and debatable feature of democracy - the Senate filibuster - at the potential expense of the most fundamental one - free and fair elections."

Staggeringly Vulnerable

Sinema is in serious trouble both in a potential Democratic primary and in the general election, but she can't be written off just yet, according to Thomas Gift, founding director of University College London's Centre on US Politics.

"It's still too early to write Krysten Sinema's political epitaph, but it's clear she's going to face an uphill battle retaining her Senate seat," Gift told Newsweek.

"Given that many on the left view her and fellow moderate Joe Manchin as the primary impediments to their legislative agenda - on everything from Build Back Better to voting rights to filibuster reform - progressives will put a target on her back during the Democratic primaries," he said.

Even if Sinema survives a primary, Republicans will "doubtlessly view Arizona as a state where they can make headway in an election year when Democrats are already expected to struggle," Gift said.

Gift described Sinema as "a relative newcomer to the Senate" who hasn't built up the level of political backing in Arizona "that would help fend off major political challenges."

"All of that adds up to Sinema being staggeringly vulnerable in 2024," Gift said.

A Better Bet Than Manchin

David A. Bateman, an associate professor of government at Cornell University, told Newsweek that Sinema could have a better chance of re-election than Senator Joe Manchin, who's also up for re-election in 2024.

"I think it is never a good idea to count out a senator from a swing state who develops a calculated reputation for ideological ambiguity," Bateman said. "Sinema is probably a better bet for reelection than Manchin."

Bateman said Democrats "can do a lot better in Arizona than Sinema has turned out to be," citing Senator Mark Kelly.

"With Manchin and West Virginia, by contrast, they're lucky to have a warm body with a 'D' next to their name," he said.

"So Democratic ire towards Sinema makes sense, " Bateman said. "It's a purple state, for sure, but one where centrist-liberal candidates can win. So it must be a bit galling to see Sinema seeming to go out of her way to frustrate the legislative ambitions of the party and president, and to add insult to injury by seeming to rub Democrats' noses in it."

More Like McCain

However, Bateman told Newsweek that Sinema is "no fool" and could position herself as a "maverick" like the late Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican.

"She knows her donors, and knows them better than Politico - she knows which ones she can spare and which she can't," Bateman said.

Bateman said Sinema could "read the electoral landscape of Arizona better than we can" and her choices are "almost certainly being made with the goal of cultivating a reputation that she thinks will help her in that environment."

"It's a state that has a long history of ostensible 'mavericks,' - politicians who decide to put building a reputation for independence ahead of their party's policy commitments," he said.

"I have no doubt that she is meeting voters - and especially donors - who have been urging her to be more like McCain and who say 'keep it up' every time she gets the headlines she wants by frustrating the president's agenda.

"Is this a smart move on her part? I doubt it's a dumb move," Bateman told Newsweek, noting that it appears Sinema is more popular with Republicans than Democrats.

"If 2024 is looking like a bad year for Democrats, she could say to a primary audience 'I'm the only one who can win the Senate seat.' That's historically been a pretty solid argument," he added.

Kyrsten Sinema Speaks at a Hearing
U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona, speaks during the Senate Finance Committee hearing on the nomination of Chris Magnus to be the next US Customs and Border Protection Commissioner, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 19, 2021. Sinema could be facing a strong primary challenge in 2024. MANDEL NGAN/POOL/AFP/Getty Images