Democrats getting nervous about Kelly's re-election chances?

Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic via AP, Pool

It sure sounds that way, and in all honesty, there are plenty of reasons for the left to worry that the junior senator from Arizona may be tossed out of office come November, just two years after he won a special election to fill the term of the late John McCain. Arizona might be more of a purple state than crimson red in terms of its politics, but all indications are that this is shaping up to be a red wave election, and Kelly could easily find himself swept out of power in the midterms later this year.

Democrats are also worried about a demoralized base, and some are preemptively pointing fingers at Arizona’s other senator for driving down voter enthusiasm on the left.

Arizona Democrats are growing increasingly alarmed that the drama surrounding Sen. Kyrsten Sinema will make it harder for her counterpart, Sen. Mark Kelly, to win re-election in November.

It’s an unintended side effect stemming from the intra-party outrage that Sinema kicked up after her decision last week to block a major voting rights bill that sits atop President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.

Now, Sinema is the talk of Grand Canyon State politics when Democrats very much would rather the focus be on Kelly, a former astronaut running in a tough 2022 midterm cycle where Republicans need to pick up just one Senate seat to win back the majority.

“I do think that Kyrsten Sinema is making it significantly more difficult for Mark Kelly to get re-elected,” said one Arizona Democratic Party official, who requested anonymity to speak bluntly about the race.

“This is not what we wanted to talk about right now,” the official said. “It’s like a vacuum that’s taking away from the focus that needs to be on Mark Kelly right now … instead we’re fighting against ourselves here.”

Kelly is a gun safety activist and husband of Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who in 2011 was shot outside a grocery store in her district during a constituent event. He beat the Republican incumbent in a 2020 special election to serve out the final two years of the late Sen. John McCain’s term and now is running for a full six years in Washington. To do that in swing-state Arizona, Kelly will need to win over independents and moderate Republicans.

Kelly isn’t a “gun safety activist,” contrary to Business Insider’s branding of the politician. He’s the co-founder of the gun control group Giffords, and like other gun control activists, his idea of gun safety can be boiled down to “don’t own one.”

As we mentioned last week, Kelly has been mostly mute on the issue since taking office, which is likely by design. Why risk riling up Arizona’s conservative and independent voters by demanding the passage of Joe Biden’s gun ban when it doesn’t have the votes in the Senate? Kelly even shied away from publicly pushing for Giffords’ senior lobbyist David Chipman’s confirmation as ATF director rather than draw undue attention from Arizona voters to his anti-gun advocacy.

All that would change if Kelly is elected to a full six-year term come November, but at the moment it’s not in his political interest to let his anti-gun freak flag fly too high. Kelly’s strategy is to lay low, rake in scads of campaign cash (his campaign collected more than $9-million in the 4th quarter of 2021), and hope that Republicans end up nominating an uninspiring candidate later this year.

No matter who wins the primary, Republicans are also already busy highlighting the contrasts between Kelly and Sinema. “Kelly is no moderate,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesperson Katharine Cooksey said after last week’s vote. “He is a far-left senator who will do whatever Joe Biden and Washington Democrat leadership tell him to in order to pass a radically liberal agenda.”

While Kelly voted with his party to change the filibuster rules, the Arizona Democratic Party official said Sinema’s refusal to do the same means that Kelly will ultimately have fewer accomplishments to tout to voters come November.

“Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly could have joined with their 50 Democratic senators and passed significant legislation on health care, on voting rights, on environmental issues, on climate change, and gone back to the people of Arizona in October 2022 and said, look at all of the things we have passed,” he said.

“Kyrsten Sinema’s decided to block all of it,” the official said. “So Mark Kelly doesn’t have as much material to work with in his re-election.”

That may actually end up being a blessing in disguise for Kelly, who unlike Sinema doesn’t have to worry about a primary challenge from the left. Biden’s “Build Back Better” spending monstrosity doesn’t poll well at all among independents and conservatives, and with the president’s approval rating continuing its downhill slide, Kelly is nominally better off not having to cast a vote on many of the administration’s big ticket items.

Still, I think Democrats are right to be worried about Kelly’s re-election chances, though I don’t want conservatives to get prematurely cocky or confident in ousting him. It’s definitely doable this November, but it’s going to take boots-on-the-ground activism as well as a candidate that can inspire voters to get involved and engaged in defending their liberty by highlighting Kelly’s anti-Second Amendment positions.

In 2020, Martha McSally mostly ignored the gun control issue and ended up losing to Kelly 49-51, with just about 80,000 votes separating the two. Whoever ends up as the Republican candidate this year cannot afford to make that same mistake. While Arizona Democrats may be less motivated to turn out come November thanks to Kyrsten Sinema, conservatives need to be energized by the prospect of replacing the gun control lobby’s man in the Senate with someone who doesn’t buy into the idea of banning our way to safety or turning the right to keep and bear arms into a crime.