By Jim Ellis
Aug. 16, 2017 — Reports attributed to the Phoenix NBC television news affiliate indicate that Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) will imminently announce a challenge to Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake. For her part, Sinema concedes that she is “seriously considering” running for the Senate, which is much different than her previous stated position of committing to seek re-election to a fourth US House term.
With Rep. Sinema putting herself on the sidelines early in the game, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and state Rep. Randy Friese (D-Tucson), the surgeon who saved Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Tucson) after she was gunned down back in 2011, were being mentioned as potential Senate Democratic candidates.
If Sinema is to move forward with a Senate challenge to Flake, it is becoming apparent that Mayor Stanton would divert away from a direct confrontation with the congresswoman, and instead become a candidate for her open House seat. It is unclear what, if any, move Friese might make under this potentially new configuration of candidates.
Sen. Flake, along with Nevada Sen. Dean Heller (R), appears to be the most vulnerable Republican standing for re-election. Though Arizona is a better Republican state than Nevada to the point of electing two GOP senators, a governor, controlling five of nine US House seats and both houses of the legislature, Flake finds himself in a tenuous political position largely through his own doing.
The senator’s very public national feud with President Trump, started during the campaign, has damaged him within the Republican base. He shows no signs of wanting to retreat from his combative relationship with Trump, however. Sen. Flake has already drawn primary opposition, at this point mainly from former state Sen. Kelli Ward, the woman who held Sen. John McCain to a 51-40 percent re-nomination victory last year.
Ward is not viewed as being particularly strong, but state Treasurer Jeff DeWit (R), who has already said he will not seek re-election to his current position, could be a viable Republican primary opponent to Sen. Flake. As President Trump’s Arizona campaign chairman, he would draw the chief executive’s primary support and reports indicate that the president has previously encouraged DeWit to enter the race.
Earlier, it was suggested that Sinema was waiting to see if Flake attracted a stronger primary opponent than Ward, believing that the incumbent having to face a tough Republican primary might be enough to soften him up even further for the general election. DeWit has yet to come forward to declare himself a candidate and, with time quickly passing, it is quite possible that he will not. Therefore, other factors are now apparently influencing Rep. Sinema to enter the race.
The congresswoman, first elected in a tough 2012 southeast Maricopa County open seat campaign when the 9th District was first created in the 2010 national apportionment formula, has made the seat safe. Rep. Sinema has moderated her political stance since coming to Congress – she had established herself as being much more liberal as a member of the Arizona legislature – and has ventured on a fundraising tear since the beginning of the year, netting over $3.2 million for her campaign account at the end of June.
All of these moves are consistent with someone looking to launch a statewide campaign, especially when looking at her cash-on-hand totals. Her financial sums are far in excess of what is needed to win another term from her increasingly Democratic House district.
Though Arizona is normally a reliable Republican state, Sen. Flake continues to make himself vulnerable to a strong re-election challenge. Should Rep. Sinema enter, the Senate campaign’s political dynamic would significantly change. She may well be positioned to turn several previous close Democratic statewide losses into a challenger win next year.