Barely a year after winning a hard-fought battle to put Arizona’s 9th Congressional District in the Democratic column, U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema faces a fork in the road.
One path leads to a safe Democratic district, where the 37-year-old congresswoman can stockpile campaign resources, bide her time, and, when the opportunity presents itself, run for a statewide office.
The other keeps her in CD9 where, locked in a cycle of raising big amounts and constantly depleting her resources, she will likely confront a battle for survival every two years. Despite the challenges, she is also favored to win reelection this year, thereby keeping the district in the Democratic column.
Those are the possibilities the Democratic Party’s rising star must decipher following last week’s announcement by Congressman Ed Pastor that he’s retiring at the end of his term. The decision has led to a mad scramble among Democrats in Arizona’s 7th Congressional District.
Before she moved into CD9 in early 2012, Sinema lived near 5th Avenue and Thomas Road, which is in Pastor’s CD7. Technically, nothing prohibits Sinema from running in CD7 even though she resides in CD9, although candidates usually move into the district they want to represent. Sinema’s current home is a few miles from the CD7 border.
Already, several candidates have jumped into the race, including Senate Minority Whip Steve Gallardo and House Assistant Minority Leader Ruben Gallego. Both have said they won’t back down even if Sinema joins the race.
But all eyes are on CD9’s congresswoman. The silence from her campaign about her political plans fueled the speculation that she’s seriously weighing the pros and cons of quitting her district and crossing over to CD7.
This week, some campaign strategists said it would be wise for her to make the jump, and the only equation that truly matters is self-advancement.
“At the end of the day, when all is said and done, any politician, when making these kinds of decisions, the only thing they should consider – it’s stupid, it’s foolish if they do not – is, ‘What is best for me politically?’” said GOP consultant Chris Baker, who successfully ran U.S. Rep. David Schweikert’s campaign in 2012.
To Baker, CD7 is a more viable launching pad. He argued that Sinema will need tremendous financial resources to win in a state where Democrats have struggled to capture a statewide office. She can’t do that from CD9, where she’s always under siege, Baker said.
However, some anticipate that Sinema will ruffle feathers and upset many in her party if she quits CD9 to run in Pastor’s district.
Democrats are worried that without Sinema, who won with 49 percent of the vote in 2012, CD9 is immediately flung back to the uncertain column. Vernon Parker, her Republican opponent, captured 45 percent of the vote.
“There have been a lot of resources, [and] a lot of energy and work put into holding on to Congressional District 9 as a Democratic seat. If she moves out, that puts it all in play,” Gallardo told the Arizona Capitol Times. “I think you start seeing qualified Republicans that are going to be well-funded jumping into the fray.”
That means Democrats will have to scramble anew to keep the seat in the district, Gallardo said. CD9 is nearly evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, but the district’s largest pool of voters is independent.
This week, Democratic political consultant Mario Diaz sent a letter to Sinema urging her to stay in CD9 to help ensure that Pastor is succeeded by a Latino. Latinos make up roughly 65 percent of the district.
“Your candidacy in Congressional District 7 will cause major disruptions in the possibility that the Latino community will have a representative from our community in Washington, D.C.,” said the letter, which was signed by roughly a dozen community leaders, including Edmundo Hidalgo, who is president of Chicanos por la Causa.
Diaz said there’s more at stake than what is politically convenient. Tracing the election of Latinos to numerous offices to Pastor’s history-making ascent to Congress in 1991, he told the Capitol Times that “Latino children or children of color now can say, ‘Hey, if Ed Pastor can represent Congress, I can too.’”
“It’s about a legacy of a large group of people in the state of Arizona, and that is the Latino community,” he added.
Diaz and other Democratic candidates acknowledged that said Sinema’s entry in CD7, should it happen, would change the electoral equation and put her in a frontrunner status.
“It’s a game changer because she has money, because she has political savvy, because she’s a great candidate, and given that the candidates that are considering running for the office have four months to raise money, it’s very difficult [for others to compete]. She immediately would be the front runner,” Diaz said.
Sinema has more than $1 million in the bank, her latest campaign finance report showed.