Analyzing the 2024 Arizona Senate Race

Shane Dillon ’26 evaluates candidates for Arizona’s Senate seat and encourages eligible students to vote in this year’s race.

In the 2018 federal midterm elections, which saw a ‘blue wave’ rebuke Donald Trump’s presidency, Kyrsten Sinema, then a Democrat, shocked the nation when she defeated her Republican opponent for Arizona’s open senate seat. The open seat was vacated when Senate Jeff Flake announced he would not be running for re-election. He has said many times that bipartisanship has all but died in Washington. No Democrat had won an Arizona senate seat since 1976. With Sinema recently declining to run for reelection, it is worth looking at why.

I was very excited when Sinema was elected. I had just been getting into politics and knew very little. However, Sinema’s success in flipping a Senate seat in a state that was all but written off by Democrats at the time gave me hope for the country's future. Despite her conservative leanings in the House during her time there, which was smart politically to succeed in her swing district at the time, her background as a member of the Green Party in the early 2000s made me excited to see what she would do with her position. What a disappointment that turned out to be.

When 2020 rolled around, and Democrats won back the Senate by securing Georgia’s two senate seats, Democratic leader Chuck Schumer was presented with a challenge: Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. Issues Democratic candidates ran on that cycle — voting rights, police reform, filibuster reform, and raising the minimum wage — were mainly failures due to Sinema, as well as occasionally one or a few other conservative-leaning Democrats as well.

The problem with Sinema is that she campaigned on agenda items like the minimum wage, and then turned her back on those items when it came time to vote. She became known for her dramatic thumbs down on a vote to raise the minimum wage after appearing to ensure Republican leader Mitch McConnell saw her do so. Sinema is also known to send her staff on personal errands, ridicule Democrats in rooms full of Republican donors, and infamously never preview her votes or take questions from the press. Sinema is a senator who moves in silence — something that is simply antithetical to the point of being a senator. Then, she made her complete 180 official when she left the Democratic Party and registered as an independent. While I have a certain level of respect for her rebuke of national party rhetoric and sticking to her guns, I do not respect her rebuke of what her constituents elected her to do.

She voted to confirm Trump’s attorney general, Bill Barr, who acted as Trump’s personal attorney more than the country’s lawyer, and her vote to tank the minimum wage increase was even after her fellow Senator Mark Kelly, a Democrat, ran heavily on increasing the wage in 2020. He was elected with a higher margin over his challenger than Sinema was two years prior, yet she still voted no. She no longer represents the fundamental causes Arizona voters sent her to Congress for, and they probably wouldn’t have voted in favor of her if she did decide to run. They may vote though, for another Democrat.

In January last year, popular congressman Ruben Gallego, a former U.S. Marine, announced he would challenge Sinema in the 2024 Senate race. His announcement, which was highly anticipated, came after he and Democrats reached a tipping point with Sinema’s dissent. He established what could be the beginning of a familial political dynasty in the Phoenix metropolitan area when he and his ex-wife, Mayor Kate Gallego, were elected to different levels of Arizona’s electoral politics. Gallego is a successful lawmaker, having three of his own bills become law and over 60 co-sponsored bills become law. He is considered a progressive who does not turn off independents, who are arguably the largest pool of voters necessary to succeed in an Arizona state-wide race. Then there is Kari Lake.

Kari Lake, Kari Lake. Where do I even start? Lake is a former TV personality who won the Republican nomination for Arizona’s 2022 gubernatorial race, where she went up against then Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat. Lake was and is endorsed by Donald Trump, who once considered her for his vice presidential short-list. Lake ran against Karin Taylor-Robson, endorsed by Trump’s former vice president Mike Pence, in the Republican primary. The old-fashioned Republican establishment aligned themselves with Robson because they believed she would attract the large pool of fiscally conservative but socially liberal independents necessary to win elections there — the same electorate who arguably put former Gov. Doug Ducey, Senators John McCain, Jeff Flake, and others in office time and time again statewide. But as we see across the country, an apparent “tyranny of the minority ” issue (a loud minority mobilizing against an apathetic majority), Lake won the Republican primary and ultimately lost to Hobbs in a tight race. She is too far right to be electable, even in today’s Republican Party and yet she is poised to claim the Republican nomination, again, and face Gallego in the general election. Sinema would have made it a three-way race;with her departure, it comes down to Gallego and Lake. Sinema turned her back on her constituents to cozy up to Republican lobbyists and is right that she is not what is needed right now. Gallego is well-suited to best Lake and retain this critical senate seat for the Democratic caucus.

With the announcement of Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s departure, expect the Republican conference to enter a leadership frenzy. Arizona’s election is for only one seat, but it may have everything to do with shifting control of the Senate, and the balance of power at a time when Democrats cannot lose it. The reality of this election, and how close it has the possibility of being, should be a reminder to all Amherst students to engage with the process of civic engagement: learn how to request a mail-in-ballot for the elections in your state, research the candidates running, and cast your vote. Not voting may lead to other detrimental movements like the ones that saw the gutting of Roe v. Wade and the end of affirmative action. While hard to imagine at times, every single vote matters, so vote like your life depends on it — because it does.