Democrats’ Top Senate Candidate Kyrsten Sinema Basically Running as ‘Independent’ in Arizona

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema could be Arizona's first Democrat in decades to serve as a U.S. senator—partly because she’s running as an ‘independent.’


One of the Democratic Party’s most promising Senate pickup opportunities has a message for likely voters: I’m not like a regular Democrat—I’m a cool Democrat.

In a new 30-second advertisement released Wednesday morning, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination in Arizona, touts her independence no less than three times in half a minute—not including the title of the ad, Independent.

“We have the desert in our blood,” Sinema says in a voiceover, as a camera pans over six different shots of Sonoran scrubland. “Arizonans are strong and independent.”

Arizonans, Sinema says, “love our country,” but “we’re skeptical of our government”—traits that Sinema, with “a fiercely independent record” and “a reputation for working across the aisle,” says she shares.

“Forming relationships, identifying common ground, and just getting stuff done,” sums up Sinema at the ad’s conclusion, before a voiceover sends the message home: “Independent, just like Arizona. Kyrsten Sinema, Senate.”

The advertisement is the latest reiteration of the “independent” label with which Sinema has branded herself. In her first television ad, Sinema appeared alongside her elder brother, a police officer and retired Marine, who called her “real headstrong.”

“I call it being independent,” Sinema responded, noting that she was named the third most independent member of the congressional Democratic caucus.

As the August primary approaches, Sinema has pointedly demonstrated that independence in the clearest terms of any red-state Democrat this cycle: by announcing that she intends to vote against Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as the party’minority leader should she be elected.

“I am not going to vote for him,” Sinema told Politico last week. “The Democratic leadership has failed Democrats across the country… I am unafraid to say what I believe about what I think our party needs to do and I think our party needs to grow and change.”

(Schumer shouldn’t feel too badly, as Sinema has also voted against selecting Rep. Nancy Pelosi as the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives three times.)

The congresswoman’s read on Arizona state politics isn’t solely rooted in anti-establishment sentiment, part of a nationwide trend permeating both parties. The Grand Canyon State has long been home to vote-’em-all-out advocates of personal freedom, a state where government interference is so anathema that Arizona driver’s licenses don’t expire until the holder reaches retirement age. Many Arizonans point to the state’s Wild West cultural history—as well as Barry Goldwater—as the root of its current small-L libertarianism.

Long before launching a campaign to replace outgoing Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, Sinema has been seen in the state as focused on constituent services and veterans’ issues, rather than on the needs or desires of the national party—an indication that Democrats shouldn’t take Independent as merely a ploy for winning a red state as a Democrat.