Oct. 3, 2017 — It has been apparent for some time that three-term Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) is preparing for a statewide race, and on Friday she officially made her intentions known. Rep. Sinema announced that she will run for Senate, challenging first-term Sen. Jeff Flake (R) or whomever the Republican nominee might be.
Former state senator and US Senate candidate Kelli Ward is Sen. Flake’s current Republican opponent and she leads him in the latest polls, but others could still enter if they continue to see Flake in a prone political position and Ward not perceived as a top-tier candidate. The Arizona partisan primary cycle is a long one. The vote is scheduled for Aug. 28, 2018, and with the filing deadline not until May 30 plenty of time remains for the final candidate field to gel.
It became obvious that Sinema was looking at either the Senate or governor’s race at the beginning of the year when her fundraising increased precipitously even though her Phoenix congressional district is now politically safe. Having more than $3 million in her campaign account by June 30 (the same amount as Sen. Flake, incidentally) became the strongest clue that she would run statewide despite her “announcement” during a Phoenix radio interview that she would seek re-election to the House.
Sinema’s move means 27 seats will be open for the 2018 regular election cycle, not counting Utah’s UT-3 special election that will be decided on Nov. 7. The Republicans hold 18 of the 27 open seats as compared to the Democrats’ nine.
Arizona’s 9th District is a small Phoenix suburban seat that encompasses part of the state’s largest municipality and arcs around its eastern boundary from north to south. The population anchor is the cities of Mesa and Tempe. The seat also touches part of Glendale, Scottsdale, and Chandler in addition to Phoenix. Originally, the 9th proved to be a swing seat, but as the decade progresses it is moving discernibly toward the Democratic candidates.
Early signs suggest Democrats are coalescing behind Rep. Sinema, and thus a united party heads into political battle with Sen. Flake or a different party nominee should the incumbent not emerge from the GOP intra-party vote.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (D) appears ready to enter the open House contest, but won’t do so for some time. Arizona has a “resign to run” law, meaning that the mayor would have to relinquish his current position upon declaring for the federal post if done more than a year before the next election. Such a timetable suggests that Stanton won’t officially announce his campaign until well after the new year begins. Postponing his entry would allow him to serve the balance of his term as mayor while he campaigns for the House.
Another potential Democratic candidate is also falling in line behind Sinema. State Rep. Randy Friese (D-Tucson), the surgeon who saved former Rep. Gabriele Giffords’ (D-Tucson) life after she was shot at an open constituent event in 2011, indicates that he will seek re-election to the state House now that Congresswoman Sinema has decided to run for the Senate.
Clearly converting Arizona will become a major Democratic objective. Holding sizable funds and few Republicans to target because the party is defending 25 of 33 seats, the Grand Canyon State becomes one of two offensive opportunities. The Democrats seemingly clearing the field for Rep. Sinema makes their conversion chances even stronger.
Due to Sen. Flake’s nomination problems and the Democrats uniting behind Rep. Sinema, this race already moves into the toss-up category and will likely stay in this status for the bulk of the election cycle.