Since Senator Kyrsten Sinema abandoned the Democratic Party, her donor base has shrunk, and she hasn’t been able to make up the difference with the GOP or independents.
That scenario sums up the difficulty the independent Arizona senator is having in deciding whether or not to run for reelection: After abandoning a political party with whom she frequently found herself at conflict, Sinema must now rely on her own reputation to win support.
According to campaign finance reports, doing so will be extremely difficult.
Her former funders are more committed to the Democratic Party than they are to Sinema, according to a HEADLINESFOREVER examination of her donors in recent campaigns. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who started a run for Sinema’s seat in January, has raised two-and-a-half times as much from Sinema’s 2018 significant donors as Sinema herself has.
Donors to the Democratic Party in Arizona have responded to Gallego’s elevation to the party’s nomination for Senate over Sinema.
The data shows how much of an outlier Sinema has become when she abruptly left the Democratic Party. She would need a diverse coalition of voters and donors from among independents, Democrats, and Republicans if she was to be re-elected.
“Her fundraising is somewhat dried up,” said Barrett Marson, an Arizona GOP insider. In the same way that there is a Republican donation basis and a Democratic contributor base, “there isn’t an independent donor base.”
Less than half of what Gallego raised in the first nine months of 2023, Sinema raised $4.6 million. Sinema has more than twice as much cash on hand as Gallego ($10.8 million), but she is raising less money recently and much of that was collected before she defected from the party. As an analogy: Sinema raised $7.1 million in the first nine months of her 2018 campaign, which she launched in September 2017.
However, many of the donors who supported Sinema’s 2018 Senate campaign don’t appear interested in doing so again.
A HEADLINESFOREVER examination of campaign finance data found that Sinema’s top 2018 donors gave $691,000 to Gallego but only $277,000 to Sinema. In addition, supporters of Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, who ran in a tight Senate election in Arizona last year, have given more to Gallego than to Sinema. All contributors who contributed above $200 as of September 30 were included in the analysis.
It’s still early in the 2024 election cycle, of course. Campaign contributions typically increase during election years since that is when donors are paying the most attention. And Sinema has not chosen if she would seek reelection, which stifles her capacity to finance. (She can still file in the state until the end of April.) Sinema appears to have lost support from the most active segment of the electorate – early donors.
There has been no support for Gallego from the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm or from any national Democrats. Sinema has lost the support of many party regulars because she worked to derail their most ambitious legislative agenda items.
“Trust me, it hasn’t been forgotten,” said Rep. Ral Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who has endorsed Gallego.
Sinema has used up about $2.6 million of the roughly $4.6 million she raised this year without officially launching a campaign.
After spending nearly $6 million, Gallego still had $5 million in his campaign coffers from the proceeds of an earlier election.
Sinema has had trouble attracting new fundraisers, while Gallego has been filling his coffers with money from Democratic donors. While Sinema only managed to recruit around 140 of the high-dollar donors that helped catapult Kelly to victory last year, Gallego brought in 2,900. Blake Masters, Kelly’s Republican opponent in 2022, has received only 19 votes.
Sinema might swiftly close the money gap by turning to super PACs, which could provide her campaign a significant boost with relatively small investments from a small number of wealthy donors. No such organisation exists to back her at the moment, but her track record of supporting business could help her win over corporate backers.
The implications of a Sinema candidature are being discussed at length by both parties.
She caucuses with the Democrats and was until just last year, so she could be appealing to party faithful who are concerned that Gallego is too far to the left to win in Arizona. Republicans worry that Sinema will hurt them more in the long run by drawing independent and moderate Republicans who won’t vote for Kari Lake, the TV anchor-turned-MAGA hero who refuses to admit defeat in the 2022 governor’s race.
According to the individual familiar with the Republican poll conducted in late October and handed to Senate GOP chiefs of staff last week, Lake led Gallego by less than 1 point, 37% to 36%. If Sinema is even running, though. The survey suggests she only got 15.4 percent of the vote.
Without Sinema on the ballot, Gallego leads Lake by three points, 46% to 43%. The margin of error for the Cygnal poll, which surveyed 600 potential voters for the general election, was over 4%.
In general, these results are consistent with a poll delivered to Republican senators last week by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in which Lake was shown to lose to Gallego by 4 points (within the margin of error) and Sinema was shown to receive 17 percent of the vote. NRSC stated Sinema was pulling more from Republicans than from her old party.
Because Arizona is a “center-right state,” Republican Senator Kevin Cramer of North Dakota predicted that “she would draw more from the Republicans than Democrats.” The maths in question, he continued, “would worry me.”
Unlike many of her other Senate hopefuls, Sinema is able to get financial support from donors on both sides of the political spectrum. She has raised money through ActBlue, the Democratic Party’s online fundraising site, and WinRed, the Republican Party’s online fundraising platform, this year, with about 370 of her donors contributing to both campaigns.
Sinema earned around $53,000 from individuals who had also given to the super PAC arm of No Labels, according to the HEADLINESFOREVER research. And the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC allied with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s agenda that backs Republican candidates for the Senate, has eight of the same donors as she does.
Party leaders within the Republican Party have shown some support for Lake’s candidature, and party strategists believe she has an unbreakable hold on the party’s grassroots supporters. This creates an opportunity for Sinema or Gallego to court moderate Republicans like the late John McCain or former Republican Sen. Jeff Flake.
Lake famously warned McCain’s Republican supporters to “get the hell out” during her 2022 campaign. Since then, she’s signalled that she’s interested in courting moderate Republicans and even Joe Biden supporters.
Conservative Arizona lawmaker David Schweikert said, “Can she also repair some of the relationships in a district like mine?” Schweikert represents a largely affluent and highly educated section of Maricopa County. It’s been my experience that “they have their own issue sets that occasionally they’d like someone to speak to.”