Time’s almost up for Sinema to run again—if she even wants to

A new poll from Noble Predictive Insights finds independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema disproportionately taking votes from Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego in a hypothetical general election in Arizona even as he still maintains a lead on far-right conspiracy theorist Kari Lake. But that three-way race is looking increasingly unlikely, because the incumbent is running out of time to decide if she even wants to seek reelection.

In the survey from NPI, which sometimes does work for conservative groups but tells us that this survey was not conducted for a client, Gallego bests Lake 47-37 when theirs are the only two names presented to respondents, with 16% undecided.

But the congressman’s edge over Lake falls to 34-31 when Sinema, who takes third with 23%, is provided as an option; the remaining 12% of respondents remain uncommitted.

NPI also took a look at the July 30 GOP primary and shows Lake, who was the party’s 2022 nominee for governor, beating Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb 54-21. (Gallego faces minimal opposition for the Democratic nod.)

However, while every survey we’ve seen has found Lake easily claiming the Republican nomination, not every pollster agrees that Gallego is leading her—or that Sinema would have a dramatic impact on the race should she run.

An early January survey from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling on behalf of the progressive Replace Sinema PAC, for instance, placed Lake ahead 46-45 in a head-to-head matchup, but it gave the congressman a 36-35 edge in a three-person contest. A Lake internal pool from JL Partners a few weeks later showed largely similar results, placing her ahead in those respective scenarios 46-44 and 40-39. 

However, both firms agreed with NPI that Sinema would be in a distant third place, though those earlier polls showed her in even worse shape: PPP had her grabbing 17%, while JL Partners placed her share of the vote at 13%.

Despite these weak numbers, Sinema is still keeping everyone guessing whether she’ll campaign for a second term, but she still isn’t doing the basic things necessary to make the ballot. Most notably, Axios’ Jessica Boehm reported this week that the senator still hadn’t even filed the “statement of interest” with the secretary of state that she’d need to turn in before she could even gather signatures.

And every day during which Sinema hesitates deprives her of valuable time. As the Arizona Republic’s Ronald Hansen explained last month, independents must collect about 43,000 valid signatures to qualify—six times the figure that candidates seeking a party’s nomination need. That goal became even more difficult last week when Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs signed a bill that moved the state’s primary forward one week, a law that also shifted the filing deadline from April 8 to April 1.

Consultant Meghan Cox tells Axios’ Boehm that Sinema might still have time to gather the requisite signatures but only if she were to get started within the next two weeks. But any petition campaign would be expensive, though it’s not clear just how pricey it might be: While Cox estimates that it would cost the incumbent at least $1 million to make the ballot, one Democratic firm told Hansen the price tag could exceed $4 million

Sinema finished December with $10.6 million in the bank, but she could have a difficult time replenishing her war chest. The senator’s once-formidable fundraising operation tanked after she left the Democratic Party in late 2022, and her $550,000 haul during the final quarter of 2023 was particularly poor. Gallego, by contrast, outraised Lake $3.3 million to $2.1 million during the final three months of the year, and he ended the year with a wide $6.5 million to $1.1 million edge in cash on hand.

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