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How Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's switch to an Independent is being viewed in her home state


Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema is a Democrat no longer. She spent much of the last two years in an evenly divided Senate, carving out a reputation as a holdout in contentious legislative battles. The senator announced Thursday she is now an independent. KJZZ's Mark Brodie in Phoenix joins us now.

Mark, thanks for being with us.

MARK BRODIE, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And what did the senator have to say about why she changed her party affiliation?

BRODIE: Well, she talked about how partisanship is a problem in D.C. and that she's tried to be an independent voice for Arizona during her time there. I spoke with her right after she announced the shift, and she told me the move shouldn't really be a surprise to anyone, that this is how she's approached her job during her time in the Senate, that she's worked with both parties, that she has angered and frustrated both parties and that nothing really will change now that she's a registered independent. She also did say that there was nothing specific that happened that pushed her away from the Democratic Party.

SIMON: What's the response been like in Arizona?

BRODIE: Well, three Democratic members of the state's congressional delegation have responded with maybe not the nicest things to say, and that includes Congressman Ruben Gallego, who is widely seen as a candidate for that seat in 2024 and was thought to be planning a primary challenge to Sinema. Two political analysts, one Democrat and one Republican, with whom I spoke on Friday - both said they were not surprised, and both of them suggested the switch was made for political reasons, mainly to avoid a primary that seems like it would have been increasingly difficult for Sinema to win.

SIMON: Of course, all of this comes on the eve of a new Congress. What could the senator switch mean for the next two years in the Senate?

BRODIE: Well, Sinema says she's going to continue to do her job the same way she's been doing it. And she points to a number of bills she's worked on and gotten passed with Republicans. She was, for example, very involved in the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Respect for Marriage Act, which, of course, just went to the president this week. She's also working on an immigration bill now with North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis. So she says she plans to keep doing what she's been doing, just with a different letter after her name.

SIMON: Of course, we have to ask, what indications are there about the 2024 election? Will the senator run for reelection?

BRODIE: Well, that is the question. I mean, for what it's worth, when I asked her about 2024, she said she wasn't thinking about that at all. But a lot of politicos in Arizona don't seem to be buying that. So this is really where it could get interesting. If she runs, she would have to collect more signatures to get on the ballot as an independent than as a Democrat. Assuming she does that, though, she can skip the primary and go straight to the general election. But some recent polls have shown Senator Sinema having trouble with a number of voting blocks.

The analysts with whom I've spoken generally say the election will come down, as they so often do, to who the candidates are, both on the Democratic and Republican side, especially with Sinema as a potential third candidate. But they also point out in that three-way race, potentially, Sinema would not have to get 50% to win. She could potentially win with support in the 30s or so. And one analysts I spoke to said he doesn't think that would be impossible for her. It also seems pretty safe to say there are a lot of conversations happening now among elected officials in Arizona to see if this is a race they might like to get into.

SIMON: KJZZ's Mark Brodie.

Thanks so much for being with us.

BRODIE: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Mark Brodie