Nearly one week after Election Day, Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema was declared the apparent winner of Arizona’s nail-biter of a Senate race. In addition to a win for Democrats, Sinema’s hard-fought victory also adds to the spoils of the so-called rainbow wave that ushered in a record number of LGBTQ political candidates this year.
Sinema’s high-profile win is particularly historic. She is the first out bisexual person ever elected to the U.S. Senate and only the second openly LGBTQ person, behind Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., who is a lesbian. Sinema is also the Grand Canyon State’s first female senator and its first Democratic senator since 1995.
Robyn Ochs, a bisexual advocate and editor of Bi Women Quarterly, said Sinema’s victory is a sign of progress for both the bisexual community and society at large.
“To have out bisexual officials be elected to public office signifies that we have made progress in our understanding and acceptance of bisexual people,” Ochs told NBC News. “Our cultural mainstream understanding and acceptance of lesbian and gay people has progressed much more than our understanding of bi and trans people, and this election cycle has been really important.”
Sinema is no stranger to making history though. When she joined the U.S. House of Representatives in 2013, she became the first openly bisexual member of either body of Congress. However, Ochs said historic candidates like Sinema are often navigating a delicate balancing act.
“Out LGBT politicians in general have to walk that tightrope of not having their identity center on their sexual orientation, but rather on their competency and professionalism, and at the same time recognizing that they’re possibility models for people,” Ochs explained. “[Sinema’s] obviously navigating that tightrope quite successfully, but I don't think there's an easy way to navigate it — it’s a challenge, because there are tremendous stereotypes about LGBTQ people in general.”
'A stunning victory'
On election night, it appeared as if Sinema’s Republican opponent, Rep. Martha McSally, had won the Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake, but due to Arizona’s notoriously slow vote-counting process, Sinema slowly chipped away at McSally’s lead.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Sinema had 1,097,321 votes (49.7 percent) compared to McSally’s 1,059,124 votes (48.0 percent), with 92 percent of the precincts reporting.
McSally, a retired U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, posted a concession video to her Twitter account late on Monday.
Sinema’s historic win bolsters Democrats’ outlook in the Senate, where Republicans increased their majority by one seat overall. While Democrats lost three seats in the upper chamber — North Dakota, Missouri and Indiana — they gained two: Nevada and Arizona, emphasizing the party’s growing strength in Sun Belt states (Florida, another Sun Belt state, will determine winners for senator and governor in a recount currently underway).
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez called Sinema’s win “a stunning victory,” and noted its historic relevance.
“Arizonans went to the polls last Tuesday looking for bold new leadership, and that’s exactly what they’re going to get with their first-ever female senator and our nation’s second openly LGBTQ senator,” Perez said in a statement shared with NBC News.