Can anyone explain Mark Kelly’s strategy for re-election in November? Kelly caved to progressive pressure on the filibuster last week, likely angering Republicans and some Democrats in Arizona while currying favor on the Left. Now he’s rebuking those allies for censuring Kyrsten Sinema, a punishment meted out by progressives essentially for not backing up Kelly on the Senate vote.
Who will Kelly have left on his side?
Sen. Mark Kelly broke his silence over the censure of his Democratic colleague Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, with a campaign spokesperson saying he disagreed with it and she should not be singled out over her opposition to changing the Senate’s filibuster rules.
“Senator Kelly does not support the censure,” Sarah Guggenheimer of the Kelly campaign told The Arizona Republic Tuesday.
“While they came to different decisions on this vote, he looks forward to continuing to work with Senator Sinema on Arizona priorities, as they have done during his first year in the Senate to pass critical infrastructure investments that will create good-paying jobs,” Guggenheimer said.
That’s a strange argument in this instance. Sinema won election as a mavericky progressive, a kind of mirror-image John McCain. Kelly won election largely on his status as an American-hero astronaut centrist, whose only major lean to the left was on gun control after his wife Gabrielle Giffords was gravely wounded in a shooting. Kelly won by hitting the sweet spot in the center, and even then only in a cycle where Democrats captured the White House and Arizona tilted blue for the first time in decades.
Now Kelly’s endorsing Sinema at the same time that progressives are drafting a primary challenger to knock her out of her Senate seat, a project that seems to be succeeding at the moment:
Kelly’s stance comes as the Arizona senator is expected to face a competitive reelection bid this upcoming November. Kelly’s Senate seat is rated as a “toss up,” according to Cook Political Report’s latest Senate race ratings.
But the remarks also come as Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who targeted Sinema for her refusal to support filibuster reform for voting rights legislation, has said that he has been approached by Democrats about possibly challenging Sinema in a 2024 Democratic primary.
Kelly has already strayed far from his mission of “bipartisanship,” as he identified it in his 2020 campaign. Remember this?
“The polarization and the politization [sic] that we’ve seen on issues, it just makes it where our country has a hard time, our government doesn’t even function well anymore,” Kelly said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And I think the only way to fix that is for individuals, both Democrats and Republicans, to be committed to working together with the other side.”
How does voting to burn down the filibuster in support of a radical federalization of elections match up to that mission? Republicans will hammer Kelly with those words and his all-in support for the radical progressive agenda over the past year. Independents are not likely to feel too comforted to have gotten a bait-and-switch from Kelly either. After ditching bipartisanship for progressive credit, Kelly’s now appearing to stab his new allies in the back too.
It’s one thing to be a maverick, but it’s another to burn all your political bridges at once in an election cycle. Republicans still need a good campaigner to challenge Kelly, but he’s making their job easier and easier.