PHOENIX — Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has lost some friends here in Arizona.
The state Democratic Party censured her, activists are looking to back a primary opponent and even her fellow senator from the state, Mark Kelly, also a Democrat, disapproves of her vote to keep the filibuster.
But as Sinema angers the base of the party, she is winning over more conservative voters and business groups who didn’t back her election in 2018 but now say they’re impressed with her willingness to buck the party and praise her keen focus on the business community in the state.
She is “really responsive to the needs of the business community" and “there’s no question how much she cares about our military,” Sally Harrison, president and CEO of the Mesa Chamber of Commerce, told NBC News.
Harrison said Sinema is actively engaged with the defense contractors in the state and regularly communicates with her Senate aides on issues pertaining to big and small businesses.
George Saunders, a Republican voter, said he’s “very impressed” with Sinema. “I’m happy to have a senator that thinks for themselves.”
Republican voter Steve Pierce agrees. “She stands up for what’s right for the people and she’s not playing politics where she just goes by the party,” he said.
Sinema is modeling her political persona after Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who sometimes bucked his party and became known as a political maverick. McCain, who died in 2018, was censured by his party in 2014 for “a liberal voting record.”
Arizona is a deeply divided politically state that has shifted from strongly favoring Republicans to more competitive in recent years.
Democratic activists say that's why Sinema's tactics won't work. Democratic voters, who are now more numerous, won’t accept a nominee who blocks the party’s agenda, activists say, noting that the state now has two Democratic senators and voted for President Joe Biden — albeit barely.
Sinema supported the election bill that prompted the fight over the filibuster. But that point has largely been lost on those who were upset about her position on the rules, who conflated the two votes as being equal.
Sinema's re-election is still a long way away. She won't be on the ballot again until 2024 — an eon in political time that can see seismic shifts in the national sentiment.
And Republicans can't help her win a primary contest, even if she continues to curry their favor in the coming years.
Those who were enraged by her unwillingness to change the Senate rules, however, are hoping to keep Democratic voters reminded of her break with the party.
Sinema's critics say the voting access issue has particular resonance in Arizona, where lawmakers are weighing restrictive measures.
“The fact that we are seeing these bad bills come through the state Legislature and curtailing our access to the ballot box is very concerning to people,” Raquel Terán, a state senator and chair of the Arizona Democratic Party.
Unreleased polling by OH Predictive, an Arizona firm, that was obtained by NBC New shows Sinema’s support among Democrats has cratered. Just 42 percent of Democrats have a favorable view of her, which is statistically the same percentage of Republicans — 44 percent — who have a favorable view of her.
That is a stark contrast with Kelly, who is up for re-election this year. His support among Democrats is at 74 percent, according to OH Predictive.
But he hasn't completely broken with his fellow senator.
"Senator Kelly does not support the censure” by the state Democratic Party, his campaign spokesperson Sarah Guggenheimer told NBC News in a statement.
“While they came to different decisions on this vote, he looks forward to continuing to work with Senator Sinema on Arizona priorities, as they have done during his first year in the Senate to pass critical infrastructure investments that will create good-paying jobs,” Guggenheimer continued.
Kelly, who won a special election in 2020, is expected to face a difficult re-election battle and won't know his Republican opponent until after the primary in August.
Terán insisted the party stay focused on Kelly’s re-election and not be distracted by Sinema.
“At this moment Sen. Sinema will be on the ballot in 2024. Where the party goes right now is in 2022 — to organizing to making sure that we’re yelling from our mountaintop what Democrats have delivered with zero support from Republicans and the state,” Terán said in an interview. “And so electing Sen. Mark Kelly is key for us, making sure that we get more statewide races — statewide seats — is important for us.”