Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, I-Ariz., and former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, made headlines this year for quitting the Democratic Party.
They’re not alone. Fed up with the far-left takeover of the Democratic Party, numerous Democrats at other levels of government are eyeing the exit sign as well.
So far this month, the Democrats have suffered notable departures at the federal, state, and local levels.
State Sen. Glenn Jeffries of West Virginia switched from parties two years into his four-year term.
New York City Councilmember Ari Kagan followed suit. Kagan gave up a committee chair, and he’s challenging a council Democrat in 2023.
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Kagan bashed the New York Democrats in a news conference.
“Over the last several years in my personal humble opinion, [the] Democratic Party in New York became moving to the left at such a speed that they could not even keep up,” Kagan said. “And on issue after issue every year, every month, I started to feel that it’s not me leaving the Democratic Party, but [the] Democratic Party very quickly started to leave me.”
Jeffries still speaks fondly of the Democrats.
“Our politics have gotten so personal and difficult,” Jeffries said when announcing his party switch, according to Fox News. “I have the greatest respect for the many friends and supporters I have been blessed with during my time in public office… I hope to continue and strengthen those relationships going forward.”
Sinema hardly mentioned the Democrats at all.
“I registered as an Arizona independent. Like a lot of Arizonans, I have never fit perfectly in either national party,” Sinema wrote Friday in an op-ed for the Arizona Republic. “Becoming an independent won’t change my work in the Senate; my service to Arizona remains the same.”
Jeffries and Kagan joined the GOP. Sinema and Gabbard registered as independents.
The Democrats are hemorrhaging members after this year’s election and suffered a bout of public infighting after the 2020 elections. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., ordered her colleagues to stop saying the word “socialism” during a conference in November 2020, raising fears about the Democratic coalition collapsing under its weight.
Ultimately, Sinema’s move was a sobering reminder that while Democrats won an outright majority in the Senate this week, their grip on the chamber is still tenuous, giving individual members notable sway over the congressional agenda. And it foreshadowed the even more difficult climate ahead in 2024 as Democrats defend seats in seven states, including Arizona, that former President Donald Trump carried at least once.
Sinema, a third party, goes up for re-election in 2024 and may have enabled a three-way race for her Senate seat.
Sinema is taking a different route from Jeff Flake, the former Arizona Republican senator who also got crosswise with his party’s base and opted not to run rather than change his affiliation or enter a primary he would likely have lost. Sinema ultimately won Flake’s seat in 2018, but victory as an independent won’t be easy.
The field of potential Sinema rivals began to take shape almost immediately. Both parties could face contested primaries, a dynamic that could help Sinema stay above the fray in a state where parties choose their nominees just three months before the general election.
U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, a progressive Democrat and longtime Sinema antagonist, strongly hinted that he’ll run but stopped short of announcing a bid. In an interview, he said that’s always been a decision he planned to make in 2023, but the timeline may have moved up.
“I always thought I could win,” Gallego said. “I think her potential run as an independent doesn’t change that calculus.”
Rep. Greg Stanton, a former Phoenix mayor, all but confirmed his own interest in the race when he tweeted a screenshot of a poll he’d commissioned for a primary challenge to Sinema.
Sinema’s party switch “isn’t about a post-partisan epiphany, it’s about political preservation,” he wrote.
Outside groups affiliated with the Democratic Party invested more than $33 million to help Sinema win in 2018. Whether they will spend at the same magnitude — or at all — on her behalf in 2024 is an open question. Officials at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Senate Majority PAC, a big-spending super PAC aligned with Senate Majority Leader Schumer, declined to comment to the Associated Press.
But the $7.8 million Sinema reported holding in her campaign fund at the end of September is nowhere near enough to mount a competitive campaign as an independent. And she will likely struggle to raise money from Democratic donors who formerly supported her.
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article.