WASHINGTON – Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema raised a fraction of what her leading challengers brought in in the last quarter of 2023, raising new questions about her chances in what could be a bruising, three-way race.
Sinema still had more than $10 million in her campaign account as of Dec. 31, more than any of the candidates currently in the race, according to numbers posted Thursday by the Federal Election Commission.
But the FEC said she raised less than $600,000 in the last quarter, compared to $3.3 million for Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, and $2.1 million for GOP hopeful Kari Lake in the same period.
And Sinema, who left the Democratic Party in 2022, will also have to collect significantly more signatures to get on the ballot than either Lake or Gallego, who will compete in primaries for established parties. Sinema will need at least 42,303 signatures, to 7,072 for Lake and 6,556 for Gallego.
Sinema, whose Senate office did not respond to requests for comment Thursday, has not yet officially said she will run – another factor that gives analysts pause.
“Reading between the tea leaves, this looks like something where she kind of looked at reelection but it hit her in the face that that’s not going to happen,” said J. Miles Coleman of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. He said lackluster fundraising by incumbents facing reelection is “often a telltale sign that retirement is on their mind.”
“She is really the ‘will she, won’t she’ of the Senate landscape,” Coleman said. “I think this helped to clear this up.”
Despite a weak quarter, Sinema still has the incumbent advantage, raising a total of $16.9 million last year and ending the year with $10.6 million in the bank. Gallego, who entered the race just over a year ago, raised $13.3 million and had $6.5 million on hand by Dec. 31. Lake raised $2.1 million after announcing her bid in October, and ended the year with a $1.1 million balance.
The only other candidate to report any fundraising to the FEC was Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, a Republican, who raised $1.3 million last year and had $256,477 on hand on Dec. 31.
Arizona political analyst Jason Rose said that even with a healthy bank account, Sinema faces an uphill battle given her poor fundraising and the April 8 deadline for her to submit signatures to get on the ballot.
“When you combine, to put it kindly, lackluster fundraising results with the fact that a petition deadline is approaching too, it’s certainly an important piece to pay a lot of attention to,” Rose said. “Is $10 million a lot of money for a Senate race? Of course it is. But this is also a race that, with outside money, is likely to end up in the nine figures.”
The last two Senate races in Arizona have both topped $100 million in spending.
Rose believes that another storyline from the latest round of fundraising is Gallego outraising Lake, who he said has “alienated large money donors to some extent.” She can turn to grassroots fundraising, he said, but “that’s more expensive.”
“We’ve seen in the past with Mark Kelly wearing down his opposition … with not just good campaigns, but just way too much money,” Rose said. “Gallego could very well have the weight of money to his advantage if Kari Lake can’t pick up the pace.”
Coleman thinks it is not a foregone conclusion that Lake will beat Lamb for the GOP nomination, noting the primary is not until Aug. 6.
“It’s not like the primary is right around the corner so Lamb at least has some time to raise money against Lake,” Coleman said. “Even with the statewide name recognition I would expect Lake to be the favorite, but there’s still a long way to go.”
But Rose thinks there is “no chance” Lake loses the Republican primary.
“‘Less Than Zero’ is the name of a novel and a movie in the ‘80s, and it describes the possibility of Lake being beaten in this primary. Sheriff Lamb is a great public servant and would be a tremendous candidate in any other race, but it’s not going to happen,” Rose said.
Coleman said that this next quarter is going to be crucial for both Republicans and Democrats vying for the seat.
“I’m really going to look to both of them to do a lot of fundraising in the next quarter,” Coleman said of Lake and Gallego. “I think with it looking more likely than not that Sinema won’t run, this is going to be a very big spending contest between Lake and Gallego… I would say it looks like we’re off to a decent start on both sides.”