Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s declaration Thursday that she will not consider changes to Senate rules in order to enact voting rights legislation spurred an immediate backlash from fellow Democrats in Arizona.
Condemnation of Sinema’s stance defending the filibuster came from every level of the Democratic Party in her home state, including the state party, the state party’s legislative leadership, an Arizona congressman and grassroots activists who helped her win her seat in 2018.
“We are disappointed to say the least that Senator Sinema has chosen to protect an antiquated rule over her constituents,” the Arizona Democratic Party said Thursday.
In a statement, state Rep. Reginald Bolding (D-Phoenix), the leader of the state House Democratic caucus, laid out ongoing efforts by Republicans in Arizona to restrict voting in the state based on ex-President Donald Trump’s election fraud lies before laying into Sinema.
Bolding assailed Sinema for defending “the antiquated Jim Crow-era filibuster.” He challenged her “to step outside of her DC bubble and take a closer look around her state and her country,” to see that voting rights “are being systematically rolled back right now ― here and in state legislatures around the country.”
“Given the choice to cement the legacy of John Lewis or stomp on it, I will never understand the speech Senator Sinema delivered today,” Bolding added.
Immediately after Sinema reiterated her opposition to changing the Senate’s filibuster rules, U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a possible Sinema primary challenger, took to the House floor to speak on voting rights and called out the senator by name.
“Today, the House showed where it stands,” Gallego said, referring to the House’s passage of voting rights legislation earlier Thursday before Sinema announced she would vote to kill it in the Senate. “We won’t shrink from protecting our democracy and the voting rights of all Americans. It’s past time for the U.S. Senate and Sen. Sinema to do the same.”
Gallego told CNN on Friday that he is “very disappointed” in Sinema for “blocking voting rights legislation.”
“I never say no to the future,” Gallego said about a possible 2024 primary challenge against Sinema.
An early effort to primary Sinema in her 2024 reelection campaign, called the Primary Sinema Project, announced that it had raised $28,000 after Sinema’s Thursday speech, more than 10% of its total raised in its first 100 days, and increased its Twitter following from 6,000 users to more than 37,000, as of Friday afternoon.
Sinema may also lose the endorsements and grassroots support from groups, activists and party leaders that helped her defeat Republican Sen. Martha McSally by 55,000 votes in 2018.
“My reaction is every adjective to describe being disappointed,” Signa Oliver, a supervolunteer for Sinema’s campaign who sits on the steering committee of two local Arizona grassroots groups, Desert Progress Indivisible and Indivisible West Phoenix.
“It’s like being almost in an abusive relationship where you’re holding out hope, but the person continuously disappoints you,” Oliver added.
In supporting Sinema’s 2018 campaign, local Indivisible groups, like the one Oliver helps run, held over 2,500 events, knocked on over 5,000 doors, made more than 235,000 phone calls and sent more than 500,000 text messages. This is only a small slice of the work grassroots activists did to help Sinema, as many Indivisible members volunteered directly for her campaign to avoid duplicating efforts.
Sinema may also lose support from national groups that helped elect her in 2018. The League of Conservation Voters and End Citizens United PAC both endorsed Sinema in 2018, with LCV spending more than $800,000 on her election. They joined three other groups in sending a letter to senators on Thursday announcing they would withhold campaign endorsements from candidates who do not support altering the Senate’s filibuster rules.
For now, Arizona Democrats feel abandoned by their senior senator.
“We’re being left here on the front lines because we have a senator not looking after her state,” Bolding told HuffPost.
But they hope that somehow she changes her tune.
“We have two more years to work with her,” Oliver said. “We’re open and willing to work with her, but she’s going to have to get off this position on the filibuster.”
And if Sinema sticks to a position that denies voting rights a path to passage, which she has held since President Joe Biden won the presidency and Democrats won control of the Senate, Oliver says, “our only alternative is to primary her.”