PHOENIX – Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ political fortune has grown unlike any other Democrat in the country following the tumultuous aftermath of the 2020 presidential election. She is now running for governor and has emerged as a high-profile defender of the state’s election results and a critic of the Republican attempts to overturn the result.
Her path is in stark contrast to that of another prominent Democrat from Arizona: Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a self-proclaimed loner who seems to enjoy shaking her nose at liberals and has upset many Democrats in recent weeks.
Ms. Sinema insists on non-partisanship and, along with Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, has become a major internal party obstacle to President Biden’s agenda. This week in Washington all eyes were on Ms. Sinema and other moderate senators as they pursue a bipartisan infrastructure bill. But by refusing to eliminate the filibuster, she and other Democratic senators have left in doubt the passage of a comprehensive suffrage bill that many leftists consider vital in the face of nationwide Republican action.
In contrast, Ms. Hobbs rose to prominence in her party for facing devastating attacks from Republicans – including death threats against her and her family that sparked 24/7 security by state troops – and for denouncing a widely criticized GOP exam of the votes in the largest county in the state as an illusion and a threat to democracy. Now, according to some polls, she is the most popular elected official in the country and is starting a candidacy for governor with more than $ 1 million in her campaign.
Ms. Hobbs’ position is unique in part because several other elected officials who defended results at crucial moments in contested states like Georgia and Michigan were Republicans – but in Arizona, the Secretary of State was an ambitious Democrat who was enthusiastic about making the headlines do.
“If the election had gone differently or the attention I got after the election, I would not feel like I was in such a strong position,” Ms. Hobbs said in an interview in a Phoenix cafe. “I certainly don’t think things would go as well as they have been so far.”
The Democrats’ widely divergent views of Ms. Hobbs and Ms. Sinema illustrate the party’s divisions over how to best capitalize on its advantage in Arizona, a once dependable Republican battlefield that Biden narrowly flipped last year, and their differences in approach the partisan struggle for voting rights and restrictions.
Some Democrats, like Ms. Hobbs, want to confront Republicans aggressively to counter the wave of GOP election restrictions being passed across the country. However, others, including Ms. Sinema, are reluctant to take drastic measures, such as the abolition of the Senate filibuster, which would be required to pass the party’s major voting laws, and they hope to find an elusive compromise with the Republicans.
The question is particularly difficult for Democrats in the uncertain political terrain of Arizona, as the Republicans continue their narrative there despite widespread condemnation. While the majority of voters in the state tell pollsters that they reject the exam, about 40 percent say they support it, a reflection of the extent to which former President Donald J. Trump’s election fraud continues to resonate. And it remains unclear how the Independents, who make up roughly a third of all voters in the state, will evaluate the hotly contested recount.
Ms. Sinema seems to be making a political calculation that voters will not punish her for taking positions that make her a pariah among the most passionate Democrats, and Ms. Hobbs could have an uphill battle in the general election for governor if she did Republicans scare away voters.
Despite her rise in the midst of the turmoil, Ms. Hobbs remains pragmatic about persistent electoral conspiracy theories.
“Surely no sane person would have thought we’d talk about it now,” she said. “We’ve been saying all along that the misinformation is dangerous – I don’t think anyone wanted to imagine how dangerous it is.”
In such a national setting, it has become almost impossible to reach the bipartisan consensus on which Ms. Sinema has based her career and reputation.
Much of the Democrats ‘control over the Senator comes from her defense of the filibuster, a procedural tactic that currently allows Republicans to block most of their rivals’ legislative proposals. Ms. Sinema argues that the filibuster is essential to the American government.
“It’s a tool that is protecting our nation’s democracy rather than allowing our country to bounce wildly between policies every two to four years,” Ms. Sinema said this month alongside Republican Senator John Cornyn in his home state of Texas. “I think I am a daily example that bipartisanism is possible,” she added, suggesting that other senators should change their behavior instead of “getting rid of the rules or changing the rules.”
Last week, the Arizona Democrats signed a letter calling on Ms. Sinema to reform the filibuster – apparently admitting that she would not reverse her position and would abolish it entirely. And this week, Ms. Hobbs wrote a guest article in the Washington Post calling on Ms. Sinema to endorse the For the People Act, the broader of the two major federal Democratic laws, arguing that “we both know we now Do nothing, “republican lawmakers will be deprived of access to the ballot.”
For many political veterans in the state, Ms. Sinema’s demeanor is hardly surprising given that she has worked with Republicans throughout her career. But many activists are angry that she hasn’t changed her position, with Democrats now in control of the House, Senate and White House, and Republicans repeatedly blocking their legislation. Activists have spoken openly about recruiting a challenger for Ms. Sinema in the main race for her seat in 2024 if she is up for re-election.
“Senator Sinema’s leadership has been deeply disappointing,” said Alejandra Gomez, an assistant director of Lucha, a civil rights group that helped several Democrats win in the state. “It is very clear that now that we have the majority, she no longer knows how to govern. She doesn’t know how to take advantage and be nimble. “
Arizona is roughly evenly divided among Democratic, Republican, and independent voters. And both Ms. Sinema and Ms. Hobbs were elected thanks to coalitions of moderate independents and progressive activists whose campaigning efforts have shifted the state to the left. (Ms. Sinema’s advisors point out that all of the Democrats who have won national elections in recent years have described themselves as moderate.)
Historically, Ms. Hobbs and Ms. Sinema share a similar approach and background – both worked as social workers before entering politics and have built reputations as bipartisan dealmakers. In the past, Ms. Sinema was a kind of mentor to Ms. Hobbs who encouraged her to run for office and advance in state politics.
But Ms. Hobbs has distanced herself from Ms. Sinema in the past few weeks. And many activists on the left see the potential of the foreign minister to become what the senator is not: a political leader partly fueled by voter frustration. Some of Ms. Hobbs’ early successes suggest that Republican anger is driving her campaign – she said her strong fundraising of more than $ 1 million in the past six months probably wouldn’t have been possible without the recount. Almost every time she is attacked by Mr Trump or other prominent Republicans, her donations go up.
And Ms. Hobbs has admitted that without the support of the left she cannot win her application for governor.
“I’m someone who always recognizes the people who helped me get where I am,” she said. “I’m not going to turn my back on people.”
Ms. Hobbs will face at least one opponent in the Democratic primary, and Ms. Gomez said the only way to get support from the left is to make it clear that she “will act boldly and visionarily lead to the Arizona of the past – not hidden behind non-partisanship. “
But as Ms. Hobbs became a heroine of the left in Arizona, Ms. Sinema became increasingly estranged from members of her own party.
“Every day I tell activists, donors, and Democrats that we need to make sure we have our views and set the agenda,” said Raquel Teran, a state representative and chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party. “But at the end of the day we know we have a senator who’s hard to tell if she’s going to move. The part for us now is to give our opinion and express our position. We have to fight hard and make sure nothing is off the table. “
While some progressive activists have all but given up on Ms. Sinema, others are more optimistic that protest and pressure will cause her to change her approach, especially if she hears from more moderate voters.
Susan Minato, a co-president of Unite Here Local 11, which represents hospitality workers in Arizona, said she is urging Ms. Sinema to host a town hall event during the upcoming summer break from Congress. Such an approach would be unusual for a senator who rarely appears at unscripted events or takes questions from reporters (her office declined to make her available for this article.)
“We are very concerned about our country and she needs to start listening to understand why,” said Ms. Minato. “The jury has not yet decided whether we can change their mind. We’re not arguing with Senator Sinema. We fight for democracy, and in the long run. “