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Progressives crank up filibuster pressure on Sinema with million-dollar ad buy in Arizona

The ad campaign accuses the Democratic senator of putting a "Jim Crow relic" above voting rights. She supports the bill but not nixing the 60-vote rule that could keep it from passing.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Dec. 4, 2019.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Dec. 4, 2019.Joshua Roberts / Reuters file

WASHINGTON — A progressive group is launching a seven-figure ad campaign aiming to pressure Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., to support abolition of the filibuster, as the Senate eyes a vote to advance major voting rights legislation.

The group, Just Democracy, is spending $1.2 million for TV ads and another $200,000 on digital ads in Arizona from June 21 to June 30, said a spokesman for the group, adding the effort will feature two ads on cable news programs, local news and local sports in the state.

In one ad, a narrator says: "Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema is failing us," with footage of her flashing a thumbs-down in March on raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and standing next to Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, on a recent tour when she defended the 60-vote rule.

"As the GOP tries to silence our voices, she's just standing by, supporting a Jim Crow relic instead," the narrator says, invoking a term some on the left use to describe the filibuster. "You're refusing to stand with us, Sen. Sinema. Why should we stand with you?"

The second ad features activists who say their "right to vote is under attack" and demand that she back up her support for the election overhaul legislation and not allow it to be blocked by the filibuster, which is again referred to as a "Jim Crow relic."

Sinema is a co-sponsor of the "For The People Act," an amended version of which is headed for a Senate vote on Tuesday. It has a path to winning 50 Democrats but has no realistic chance of getting to 60 votes to defeat a Republican-led filibuster.

Liberal activists have called for dumping the filibuster to pass that bill and other Democratic priorities, which would require the support of all 50 senators in the Democratic caucus. Sinema, along with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has been a vocal proponent of preserving the 60-vote rule.

Sinema's office told NBC News her support for the filibuster is "not based on the importance of any particular policy," but rather "based on what is best for our democracy, including the fact that the filibuster helps protect the country from wild swings back and forth between opposing policy poles."

She has asked activists to consider the prospect that elimination of the filibuster to pass the voting rights bill could enable a future Republican-led Washington to repeal it and impose nationwide voter-ID or restrictions on mail voting over the objections of Democrats, her office said.

Sinema is not up for re-election until 2024, but the ad campaign highlights growing tension between her and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat who is running for governor in 2022, recently joined the calls to nuke the filibuster to protect ballot access.

"Sinema and I serve the same state. We both know that if we do nothing now, Arizonans’ access to the ballot will be stripped away by Republican legislators," Hobbs wrote in a Washington Post opinion essay last week.

A spokesperson for the Arizona senator said in an email: "Kyrsten believes the right to vote, faith in the integrity of our electoral process, and trust in elected officials are critical to the health and vitality of our democracy. She is a co-sponsor and supporter of both the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act because she supports legislation restoring critical safeguards that protect every American's right to vote."