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Why some voters in Arizona have soured on Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema


Next we'll hear what progressive voters in Arizona think of Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema. At a moment when Senate Democrats need every single vote they have to pass anything, Sinema is pushing back against President Biden's social spending plan and its price tag. Here's Matthew Casey with our member station KJZZ.

MATTHEW CASEY, BYLINE: Carrie Lifshitz, a neuroscientist and mom in suburban Phoenix, voted for Kyrsten Sinema when she was in the House and now the Senate.

CASEY: I did have some friends that did tell me that - just be careful. Be careful because, you know, she might not be exactly who you think she is.

CASEY: Lifshitz is a Democrat who's grown more progressive through her faith and children. She doesn't regret voting for Sinema because it helped her party later get a Senate majority.

CARRIE LIFSHITZ: But at the same time, I'm very disappointed.

CASEY: Lifshitz points to Sinema's opposition to filibuster reform and vote against a $15 minimum wage. At this point, she finds it hard to believe she'd support Sinema again. Others are ready to move on, too.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: We're going to see you in 2024.


CASEY: Living United for Change in Arizona, known as LUCHA, was among the groups that organized a small protest across a busy Phoenix street from where Sinema held a fundraiser.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Hey, hey, ho, ho - Kyrsten Sinema's got to go.

CASEY: LUCHA confronted Sinema the next day during a bathroom break for a class she teaches at Arizona State University. The group put a video of the interaction on Twitter.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Sinema, we want to talk to you real quick. Can we talk to you real quick?

KYRSTEN SINEMA: Hi. Actually, I am heading out.

CASEY: In a statement, Sinema called what happened at the university not a legitimate protest. Sinema rarely speaks to Arizona media. But she's defended her positions as delivering through compromise such as the bipartisan infrastructure bill she helped broker. But at least three groups have now popped up to try and make her vote with her own party. Sukie Keita, an educator and progressive, voted multiple times for Sinema.

SUKIE KEITA: I feel like Kyrsten Sinema is really an example of somebody who has flipped and has turned into a rebel without a cause.

CASEY: Keita has soured on Sinema's maverick mindset that's drawn comparisons to the late Republican John McCain.

KEITA: He was always telling us what he thought, you know? That's why we all appreciated and respected him.

CASEY: Keita says she'll vote against Sinema in a primary but would still vote for Sinema in a general election against who could likely be a Trump Republican.

KEITA: Because I'm not crazy. And I'm in a purple state.

CASEY: Democrats won national races in Arizona in 2020, but Republicans won about everything else.

CHRIS LOVE: I'm not willing to say that we're purple yet. Maybe we're, like, light pink.

CASEY: Chris Love heads the board overseeing political work by Planned Parenthood in Arizona. She met Sinema in law school 20 years ago, and they became friends.

LIFSHITZ: I don't like the way that she's operating right now.

CASEY: Sinema has made shrewd choices based on Arizona's political reality, Love says. Roughly two-thirds of the state's registered voters are Independents and Republicans. But Love says Sinema's calculations don't fulfill her campaign promises to fellow Democrats.

LOVE: I would just say that I know that she has it in her to do the things that are right. What she needs is the courage to deliver on those things.

CASEY: And she recalls similar criticisms from groups like LUCHA that go back years.

LOVE: Those complaints have not been taken seriously by the larger party. And, you know, folks would just, like - just fall in line. And it happens every time.

CASEY: Love means that Sinema keeps getting support from Arizona Democrats. But LUCHA and other groups have shown they can deliver results. So Sinema's support here going forward likely depends on what she and her party are able to get through Congress this fall.

For NPR News, I'm Matthew Casey in Phoenix.


Matthew Casey