Arizona Senator Kelly’s future hangs in the balance, but he’s up against Kyrsten Sinema’s censorship

A spokesperson for Sen. Mark Kelly’s campaign reportedly said he “does not support” the Arizona Democratic Party’s censure of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Kelly is pictured during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in Washington, DC on September 28, 2021.
Stefani Reynolds/Getty

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Arizona) has announced that he does not support the Arizona Democratic Party’s censure of fellow Sen. Krysten Sinema despite a potentially rocky road to re-election this year.

Members of the party’s executive council voted to censure Sinema on Saturday for his vote against changing Senate filibuster rules to allow federal voting rights legislation to pass last week. On Tuesday, Sarah Guggenheimer of the Kelly campaign said The Arizona Republic that Kelly does not support his party’s censorship and was happy to “continue to work” with Sinema.

“Senator Kelly does not support censorship,” Guggenheimer said. “While they made different decisions on this vote, he looks forward to continuing to work with Senator Sinema on Arizona’s priorities, as they did in his first year in the Senate to pass critical infrastructure investments that will create well-paying jobs.”

Kelly, a former astronaut and the husband of former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, faces what could be a tough Republican challenge to retain the seat previously held by the late John McCain in the November election. He beat Republican Martha McSally in a 2020 special election for the right to serve the final two years of a six-year term.

The Republican candidate who will challenge Kelly’s seat has yet to be determined, but the leading candidates are Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and venture capitalist Blake Masters, who has run as a loyalist from former President Donald Trump and has been endorsed by the likes of Fox News. host Tucker Carlson.

Kelly had a hypothetical early advantage vote, although no new polls have been released since September. It’s unclear what effect, if any, his rebuke of Sinema’s censure might have on his re-election chances. Kelly is unchallenged by any other Democrats in the primary so far.

With Democrats holding a tiny advantage in an evenly divided Senate, retaining seats in battleground states like Arizona will be critical to the party’s chances of not ceding the upper house to Republicans.

Sinema, who is not eligible for re-election until 2024, has been heavily criticized for her refusal to budge on the filibuster. Along with Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.), she is increasingly seen as a Democratic obstacle to passing President Joe Biden’s agenda.

Arizona Democratic Party President Raquel Terán said in a statement that the party’s executive council had “no pleasure” in voting to censor Sinema, while adding that the move was necessary because “the ramifications of failure to pass federal suffrage legislation were “too broad and far-reaching.”

“The ADP Executive Council has decided to formally censure Senator Sinema due to her failure to do all that is necessary to ensure the health of our democracy,” Terán said.

Sinema will likely face a Democratic primary challenge if she decides to seek a second term. Potential challengers include Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona), who has been highly critical of Sinema in recent media appearances while refusing to rule out the possibility of mounting a challenge in 2024.

Newsweek contacted the Kelly campaign and the Arizona Democratic Party for comment.