The race for the new 9th Congressional District officially kicked off Tuesday with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s long-expected announcement to resign her seat and run for the U.S. House.
Sinema, one of the most outspoken and well-known Democrats in the state, informed Senate President Steve Pierce earlier in the day that she was resigning her seat.
The fourth-term lawmaker from central Phoenix touted herself as both a bipartisan operator who can work with Republicans and a “staunch defender of key Democratic priorities.” Sinema had several bills pass in the 2011 legislative session with Republican support, but is also well known as an outspoken advocate of the Affordable Care Act and other liberal causes.
“My record of working across the aisle I think speaks for itself,” Sinema told the Arizona Capitol Times.
Last session, Sinema successfully pushed legislation cracking down on human smuggling, protecting child custody for active members of the military and easing the professional licensing process for military spouses who move to the state.
Sinema said she was running to stand up for the “forgotten middle class” that has suffered through the economic downturn.
“Washington doesn’t get it. They don’t get that people are hurting. Jobs are scarce, people are losing their homes and they worry they’re next. I get it,” Sinema said in a campaign announcement video on her website. “I understand how tough it is for people to make ends meet. I decided to run for Congress because we need to wake up Washington.”
Sinema lives outside of the central Phoenix and Tempe-based district by a few blocks, but said she will move to CD9 after the U.S. Department of Justice gives its final approval the new congressional districts.
Senate Minority Leader David Schapira, D-Tempe, formed an exploratory committee for the seat in November and said he will announce in a few weeks whether he’ll seek the CD9 seat. Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Andrei Cherny is also considering a run. Cherny said he will decide by the end of the month whether he’ll run for the seat.
Technically, CD9 already has an incumbent in U.S. Rep. Ben Quayle. But the GOP freshman may run instead in the 6th Congressional District – which begins just a few blocks from his house – and challenge fellow U.S. Rep. David Schweikert in the Republican primary.
Quayle spokesman Richard Cullen had no comment on where Quayle would run. But he told the Arizona Capitol Times in November that the congressman “will wait and see how this process unfolds, but he looks forward to representing a district that serves the majority of his current constituents in the 113th Congress.” The majority of Quayle’s current district is now part of CD6.
Several other Republicans are also considering running in CD9, including Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman and businessman Steve Moak, who lost to Quayle in the 2010 GOP primary. Businessman Travis Grantham, who is already running in the 5th Congressional District, said he is considering switching districts to run in CD9 as well.
Sinema has done a good job of raising her profile in the past several years, serving on President Barack Obama’s health care task force, making frequent visits to Washington, D.C. and the White House, and releasing a book in 2009. Democratic lobbyist Mario Diaz said Sinema’s efforts to raise her profile and cultivate support will serve her well in the campaign.
“I think her national contacts, I think her book signing tour, I think her networking that she’s done over the past few years is going to be favorable to her,” Diaz said.
She is also known as a solid fundraiser, and her decision to resign her seat and devote herself full-time to the campaign could pay dividends while Schapira completes the 2012 session.
Schapira said he has no plans to resign from the Legislature.
“My constituents elected me to the state Senate to serve a two-year term to fight for their interests,” he said.
While some political observers questioned Schapira’s ability to raise money because he’s always run publicly funded campaigns and has never had to raise money for his legislative races, Schapira said he has ample fundraising experience working for congressional campaigns and the American Cancer Society.