Sinema outpaces likely GOP challengers, raises $8 million in Senate bid

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, at a 2017 rally in Washington. The three-term House member has built a commanding fundraising lead over likely Republican challengers in the race to replace Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, who is not seeking re-election. (Photo by Andres Guerra Luz/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – New campaign finance reports and recent polls on the U.S. Senate race in Arizona show good news for Democrats, as Republicans look ahead to a hard primary fight.

The latest Federal Election Commission filings show Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, has raised over $8.2 million, more than the three leading GOP contenders combined. And a recent poll showed Sinema winning a matchup against any of the three leading Republicans: Rep. Martha McSally of Tucson, former state Sen. Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

“It’s a little bit early, but I would think she is the favorite given the state of the election,” David Wells, an Arizona State University political science professor, said of Sinema.

The state of the election is expected to be a good one for Democrats generally, with few voters in Arizona and elsewhere holding a favorable view of President Donald Trump, said Mike Noble, chief pollster with OH Predictive Insights.

“As of today, it’s a toxic environment to be a Republican on the ballot,” Noble said.

An OHPI poll released late last week showed just 25 percent of likely independent voters in Arizona view Trump favorably. The poll said 26 percent of independents had a favorable view of McSally and Ward, while Arpaio had just a 19 percent favorability rating.

Wells said given the Democratic wave that appears to be crossing the country, with gains in deep-red districts like Arizona’s 8th District, Sinema is the frontrunner to win the seat.

But Republican political consultant Jason Rose said that it’s more than just the perception of the GOP that puts the Senate seat within reach for Democrats. Sinema “is the most intriguing and talented person to run for office in Arizona since John McCain in 1982,” Rose said.

“When you got the political skills that she does, combined with her biography, she’s going to be difficult for any of the three Republicans to deal with in a brutally difficult year for the GOP,” he said.

Rose said the best chance for Republicans to take down Sinema is if McSally wins the crowded Republican primary.

“Between McSally and Sinema, if they face off in the general election you may have the best Senate race in America, pitting the two best Senate candidates in the country against each other in the same state,” Rose said.

But the OHPI poll showed McSally is currently trailing Ward in the Republican primary by 9 percent, in a survey with a 5.64 percent margin of error. McSally’s campaign Tuesday pointed to a competing poll, by Magellan, that showed her getting 36 percent of the primary vote to Arpaio’s 26 percent and 25 percent for Ward. That poll has a 3.57 percent margin of error.

What’s certain is that McSally has more money than the other two, despite a relatively late start to her campaign. Her FEC filing showed McSally had raised $3.4 million and had nearly $2.6 million on hand as of March 31. Ward had raised just under $2 million and had $432,553 in the bank, while Arpaio reported raising $503,191, with $254,938 on hand.

-Cronkite News graphic by Philip Athey

Despite trailing in fundraising and not holding a lead in either poll, Arpaio is “exactly where we wanted to be,” said campaign manager Chad Willems.

Willems said the fundraising got off to a slow start because people did not think Arpaio was serious about running, but said that come the August primary they will be ready to compete because Arpaio’s “not a phony like Martha McSally or a nut-job like Kelli Ward.”

Representatives from the Sinema, Ward and McSally campaigns did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

The seat came open when Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a vocal Trump critic, announced he would not seek re-election.

McSally distanced herself from Trump during the 2016 campaign – she refused to endorse or even admit she would vote for him – but has moved closer to the president since the election.

“She’s definitely cozied up to Trump,” Wells said. “Which is what all Republicans have to do. It’s one of the reasons Jeff Flake isn’t running in this election, he refused to do it.”

Rose said McSally needs to convince primary voters that she is more of a conservative than Flake. If she “cannot break out of the Jeff Flake tomb, it’s going to be very, very difficult for her.”

Wells said he would be “surprised” if McSally is not the eventual Republican nominee, given her financial advantage and months yet to campaign.

Noble agreed.

“McSally is the one with the most room to grow,” he said. “Once she starts, she has a huge amount of cash.”

Rose sees that money going into advertising to ensure that primary voters around the state get to know the Tucson representative.

“McSally is going to have the most money,” Rose said. “She’s down today but the weight of her advertising will come through.”