Kyrsten Sinema defeated Republican Martha McSally — becoming the first Democrat to win an Arizona Senate seat in 30 years. Her victory is another notch in Democrats’ strong 2018 midterm showing and a crucial boost for their numbers in the upper chamber.
It’s also historic: Sinema is the first woman the state has elected to the Senate and the first openly bisexual person to win a seat in the upper chamber. Her win will help Democrats work toward holding Republicans to a narrow margin, ensuring that the party keeps at least 47 seats in the Senate — with Florida and Mississippi still undecided.
As of Monday evening, Sinema led McSally by just over 38,000 votes and about 1.7 percentage points — though thousands of ballots still remained outstanding. (Because of Sinema’s lead, however, McSally is not expected to catch up.)
Democrats have long eyed Arizona — a state with shifting demographics that almost went for Hillary Clinton — as a possible target they might be able to flip, while Republicans desperately sought to defend it.
This year, Democrats were finally able to pull it off.
Who is Kyrsten Sinema?
Sinema ultimately won Arizona for the Democrats by running to the center.
Well-known for her fundraising prowess and strength as a campaigner, the current Arizona congresswoman staunchly framed herself as a bipartisan candidate who would work with “literally anyone” to get things done. Ahead of the election on Tuesday, she and McSally — who hewed closely to President Donald Trump throughout her campaign — were basically in a dead heat as they vied for Sen. Jeff Flake’s open seat.
The race between the two candidates was a highly tempestuous one filled with numerous attack ads and even, at one point, allegations of treason. Because of how close it was up until the very end, it was also one of the most expensive races this cycle, with $30 million in spending across the board.
Sinema’s message of moderation and centrism appears to have resonated with voters in the end. A three-term Congress member who’s represented Arizona’s Ninth Congressional District, in the southern portion of the state, Sinema was once a Green Party supporter who repositioned herself as one of the most conservative Democrats in the House. Last term, she voted with Trump more than 60 percent of the time, a record that has raised the ire of some Arizona progressives.
Her approach, however, enabled her to appeal to Democrats, independents, and even some Republican moderates to help her clinch a major victory in a state that has trended conservative for a long time. This dynamic was particularly evident in a debate earlier this fall when Sinema was able to highlight her vote defending the Affordable Care Act while emphasizing her willingness to vote alongside Republicans on more stringent immigration measures.
McSally, meanwhile, struggled to negotiate a sharp shift to the right with previous more moderate positions she’s taken on issues like protections for DACA recipients and a border wall.
Sinema has also leaned heavily into her independent streak throughout her time in the House — and as a key part of her campaign. “I think my record is very clear. I will buck anyone in either party to do what I think is right,” she told the Arizona Republic. “There have been times when I have been the only Democrat to vote a certain way in the entire U.S. Congress. It doesn’t bother me.” She’s the first among the Senators-elect to say she wouldn’t support Chuck Schumer for Senate minority leader.
McSally and Sinema were both among a record number of more than 500 women candidates who filed to run for Congress this cycle — and Sinema is now part of a groundbreaking wave of women who are set to take office on Capitol Hill in 2019. She’s also one of two women along with Rep. Jacky Rosen in Nevada, who helped Democrats flip a pair of Republican Senate seats this cycle.
Her win further solidifies the idea that there was some version of a “blue wave” this year — enabling Democrats to limit Republican gains in the Senate.