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Senator John Thune urges Kyrsten Sinema to switch parties, caucus with Republicans in pivotal seat

By Sarah May on
 January 24, 2023

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema made headlines last year when she parted ways with the Democratic Party to become an independent, and now, Sen. Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD) is strongly urging her to join ranks with Republicans in the upper chamber, as The Hill reports.

In Thune's estimation, deciding to caucus with the GOP could aid Sinema in what is expected to be a difficult re-election race by helping her avoid what might otherwise shape up to be a three-way race for the seat come 2024.

“We'll see”

Sinema made a clean break with the Democrats late last year, saying that the change was “a natural extension” of her service since she ascended to Congress and explaining that she opted to join “the growing numbers of Arizonans who reject party politics by declaring [her] independence from the broken partisan system in Washington... .”

Whether that move will ultimately translate to Republican support for her re-election bid, however, remains unclear.

Thune, known as one of Sinema's allies in the upper chamber, was somewhat non-committal about the prospect, as the Washington Examiner recently noted.

“We'll see. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Thune said, as The Hill reported. “A lot of Republicans [are] talking about it. Obviously, we'd love to have her become a Republican or at least caucus [with] Republicans. That would make things a little more clear.”

The Sinema enigma

Sinema has often chafed at the notion of lockstep adherence to any party's dictates, declaring last year, “I promised I would never bend to party pressure, and I would stay focused on solving problems and getting things done for everyday Arizonans. My approach is rare in Washington and has upset partisans in both parties.”

Her recent departure from the Democrats' ranks, however, led to much speculation about whether she would continue caucusing with her former party colleagues, but Fox News noted at the time that Sinema gave strong indications that she would not shift to the GOP contingent when it comes time to caucus.

“I don't anticipate that anything will change about the Senate structure,” Sinema said last year.

“I intend to show up to work, do the same work that I always do. I just intend to show up to work as an independent,” she added, likely dashing the hopes of Republicans who hoped she might join their caucus.

Competition heats up

Making things all the more interesting this week was the fact that Democratic Rep. Reuben Gallego (AZ-03) officially entered the 2024 race for Sinema's Senate seat, as Politico noted.

Referencing his likely opponent's headline-grabbing party switch, Gallego said, “The problem isn't that Senator Sinema abandoned the Democratic Party – it's that she abandoned Arizona.”

“She's repeatedly broken her promises and fought for the interests of big pharma and Wall Street at our expense,” Gallego added.

Though Sinema has not confirmed her intentions with regard to 2024, observers have noted that a potential three-way contest in the state among a Republican, a Democrat, and an Independent candidate has the makings of one of the most-watched races anywhere in the United States.

Manchin on the fencce

Also reportedly in the “will they or won't they” category in terms of party affiliation going into the next election cycle is Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a longtime disruptive force on progressive legislative priorities, who on Sunday declined to commit to running for re-election, as Axios noted.

During an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, Manchin was asked if he planned to remain in the Democratic Party fold for 2024, and he declared, “I haven't made a decision what I'm going to do in 2024.

“I've got two years ahead of me now to do the best I can for the state and for my country,” Manchin said, adding, “Everything's on the table.”

Host Chuck Todd posed the question to which many want an answer, asking, “Is [running for president] something you would do outside the Democratic Party if you could?” Manchin remained cryptic, saying, “The only thing I can tell you is what I will do is whatever I can when I make my decision, what I think is the best that I can support and represent the people of West Virginia, but also be true to this country and the Constitution of this country,” further deepening the lingering uncertainty about the future party alignment of two high-profile lawmakers.