Democrats have landed their top recruit to challenge Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), according to a local report, with Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) planning to jump into the race in the coming weeks.
Phoenix’s NBC affiliate reports that Sinema, a centrist congresswoman who Democrats have been courting for a statewide run for years, will indeed take the plunge against Flake, one of the two incumbent Republicans that Democrats think they can beat this election cycle besides Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV).
Sinema is doing little to push back on that report.
“I’ve heard from many Arizonans encouraging me to run for the United States Senate. It is something I am seriously considering. When I make any decisions, Arizonans will be the first to know,” she said in a Friday statement.
Sinema has an interesting background. She’s the first openly bisexual member of Congress in history, and in the Arizona statehouse was known as a fiery liberal. But she’s shifted to the center in recent years, joining the moderate Blue Dog coalition, and is one of only a handful of Democrats who the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has endorsed in recent years.
She has managed to lock down a Democratic-trending suburban Phoenix, winning the once-competitive seat in 2012 and holding off a tough challenge in the 2014 GOP wave before cruising in 2016. The district was drawn to be a tossup, and President Obama would have won it by just 4 percentage points in 2008, but it’s trended strongly Democratic and President Trump lost it by almost 15 points last fall.
That trend has helped move the state from a GOP lock towards competitiveness — Trump carried Arizona by less than 4 points. And Flake faces the double-whammy of a potentially tough primary campaign where he’ll face a pro-Trump candidate before a general election that’s shaping up to be a real challenge.
Flake may not have made things easier on himself by penning a book and op-ed excoriating Trump, a move that has infuriated the president and added fuel to the fire of the primary challenge against him. Former state Sen. Kelli Ward (R), who was crushed by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in a primary challenge last cycle, is already in the race against him, but Trump allies are working to recruit one of a pair of much more serious allies to challenge him as well, and the president himself is threatening to get involved.
Republicans have privately said for months that Flake faces a tough path to reelection, and private polling indicates that he has a tightrope to walk if he wants to return to office after 2018.