Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have torpedoed key Democratic proposals like voting right reform and the Build Back Better Act, which has sparked some lawmakers like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to say that he would support primary challengers against both of his Democratic colleagues. In theory, this would give Democrats an opportunity to replace both Manchin and Sinema with Senators who are more supportive of the party’s legislative agenda. But what is the likelihood of a Democratic challenger replacing either of them in the Senate?
As much as he remains a thorn in the side of many congressional Democrats, Joe Manchin is probably the only Democrat capable of winning a statewide seat in the Mountain State. That’s because the state leans heavily Republican – in the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump won West Virginia with nearly 69% of the vote, the second-highest percentage carried by either presidential candidate that year (Wyoming was first, with Trump carrying nearly 70% of the vote).
Additionally, all winners of statewide races in West Virginia, who are currently holding elected office, are Republicans. This includes Manchin’s colleague in the Senate, Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and all five directly elected executive branch officials in West Virginia’s state government including Republican Gov. Jim Justice.
Even if a Democratic candidate were to successfully defeat Manchin in the 2024 primary, they would almost certainly lose the general election. In 2018, Manchin defeated his Republican opponent by a margin of only 3%, and it’s highly unlikely a Democrat even one iota further to the left would have fared any better.
It is also worth noting Joe Manchin is quite popular among West Virginia voters. A recent poll by the American First Policy Institute showed 59% percent of voters approve of Manchin – nearly double of President Joe Biden’s approval rating of 30% in the state. Manchin is also very familiar to West Virginia voters, having severed six years as governor before being elected to the Senate in 2010. Even though West Virginia isn’t friendly territory for Democrats, Manchin has proven time and time again he’s the only Democrat capable of winning the state.
The senior Arizona senator isn’t as immune to a primary challenger, however. Arizona is a purple state that has been gradually trending blue. President Joe Biden won the state in the 2020 general election by a razor-thin 0.4% margin, while then-Democratic candidate Mark Kelly defeated Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) by a margin of 2.4%. In theory, this would give a Democratic senator candidate who’s slightly to the left of Sinema – and more supportive of the party’s legislative agenda – at least a somewhat viable shot at winning a statewide race.
Like Manchin, Sinema is up for reelection in 2024, and while no Democrats have officially announced plans to primary Sinema, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) has publicly expressed interest. The Phoenix-area congressman has been openly critical of Sinema before, and in January 2022, he met with some of Sinema’s donors in New York City.
More so, Sinema’s popularity has been dropping among Democratic voters in Arizona. Sinema started 2021 with a 60% approval rating among Arizona Democrats, but since she voiced her opposition to the Build Back Better Act tax provisions and filibuster changes necessary to bring about voting rights reform, her approval rating among the state’s Democrats has dropped to just under 10% in January 2022. With low approval ratings, a potential formidable challenger, and a state electorate leaning ever so slightly blue, Sinema could face some serious headaches if she seeks an additional Senate term two years from now.
However, a lot can change between now and 2024. If the Democrats lose their majority in the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections, Manchin and Sinema’s hold on the party’s agenda won’t be quite as noticeable. Additionally, priorities can change quickly, and Democrats may not be as occupied with sweeping legislative proposals over the next two years. But at least in the case of Sinema, opportunities for potential primary challenges remain ripe.