Skip links

Rating Changes: Arizona Senate and AZ-6


— We’re making a couple of rating changes today, both in Arizona.

— The state’s open-seat Senate race goes from Toss-up to Leans Democratic, and Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R, AZ-6) moves from Leans Republican to Toss-up.

— The two new developments that pushed us to make these changes are the increased importance of abortion rights in the state following a blockbuster state court decision last week as well as recent Democratic fundraising strength in both races.

Table 1: Crystal Ball Senate rating change

Senator Old Rating New Rating
AZ Open (Sinema, I) Toss-up Leans Democratic

Table 2: Crystal Ball House rating change

District Old Rating New Rating
Juan Ciscomani (R, AZ-6) Leans Republican Toss-up

Arizona rating changes

We wrote extensively last week about the importance of abortion rights in Arizona for 2024. The state’s Supreme Court recently allowed a very strict abortion ban dating back to Arizona’s territorial days to go back into effect later this year. As the narrowly Republican-held legislature ponders what to do about abortion, there is also a looming statewide ballot issue that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, as other statewide electorates have done in states like Michigan and Ohio in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision. While voters can and often do split their tickets on such ballot measures, we can’t imagine a major ballot fight over abortion rights would hurt Democratic turnout efforts in the state, and it very well could help.

We thought about making a couple of rating changes in Arizona last week, but we decided to wait until we saw the first quarter fundraising reports for House and Senate races, which were finalized for all campaigns on Monday. Those reports nudged us further in the direction of the two changes we’re announcing today.

In Arizona’s open-seat Senate race, we now see the Democrats as a narrow favorite, so we’re pushing that race from Toss-up to Leans Democratic. And we also view the swing district AZ-6, held by first-term Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R), as a truly 50-50 proposition, so we’re moving it from Leans Republican to Toss-up.

In the Senate race, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D, AZ-3) is likely to face 2022 gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake (R), although Lake does have some primary opposition to tackle first (Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb is her most notable rival, although Lake is a very clear favorite to win her party’s nomination). Lake had a decent fundraising quarter for January-March, raising about $3.6 million, but Gallego raised a more impressive $7.5 million. More importantly, Gallego has an almost 4-to-1 cash on hand advantage ($9.6 million to $2.5 million for Lake). The fundraising figures are from National Journal’s useful compilation of 2024 first quarter Senate and House fundraising reports.

Lake, a leading election denier who baselessly claimed fraud in both the 2020 presidential and 2022 gubernatorial elections, has a hard-right reputation that she is going to need to tone down, in all likelihood, in order to win. She has tried to do that on abortion rights, criticizing the judicial revival of the 1864 abortion law, although she spoke in favor of that law during her 2022 campaign. The Republicans’ 2022 Senate slate was defined by weak candidacies in several races; on balance, the GOP field seems better this time, although Lake is more in the mold of some of the candidates who had trouble in 2022. It’s also unclear how much Republican outside groups will prioritize Arizona (they didn’t in 2022 because of a lack of confidence in the GOP’s nominee, Blake Masters).

Gallego, meanwhile, is ideologically positioned to the left of the senator he is trying to succeed, one-term Democrat-turned-independent Kyrsten Sinema. Sinema flirted with running as an independent but decided to retire. Gallego recently allowed his membership in the Congressional Progressive Caucus to lapse, although he said it was because of the group’s financial dues. Lake has attacked Gallego on crime and the border. With a big head start on money, Gallego might be able to define himself positively early on for voters—something Sinema seemed successful in doing when she made the jump from the House to the Senate in 2018. Back then, Sinema had more of a progressive reputation than she does now, although she also voted with Republicans on certain matters in the House, and thus was less left-leaning in the House than Gallego is now.

Polling has shown Joe Biden trailing Donald Trump in Arizona, but Gallego has often led Lake, although there hasn’t been much polling of the Senate race lately. Still, we could see Gallego doing a little better than Biden, just like now-Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) did in 2020. (Our Toss-up rating for Arizona in the presidential race remains unchanged.)

Beyond the two recent developments—the growing importance of abortion rights and campaign finance—we also have been thinking that Arizona does not really belong with our other two Senate Toss-ups, Ohio and Montana. Those are states that are very likely to vote Republican for president, forcing incumbent Democrats Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Jon Tester of Montana to attract significant crossover support. Gallego may or may not need to do that, which we would also say of the other seats rated Leans Democratic: Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin.

This does slightly brighten the overall outlook for Democrats in the Senate, but Republicans continue to have the easier path to a Senate majority because of the sheer amount of defense Democrats are playing on difficult political terrain. Republicans are locks to flip West Virginia, and they would remain favored there even if retiring Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) parachuted back into the race as an independent later this year, a possibility we discussed a couple of weeks ago. Flipping West Virginia would get Republicans to 50-50 in the Senate, so they could win the majority by flipping one of the two Toss-ups (Montana or Ohio) or just by winning the presidency, as a Republican would then serve as the Senate tiebreaker (which is what Vice President Kamala Harris did for Democrats in the tied 50-50 Senate from 2021-2022). Beyond those states, Democrats are defending the four next most competitive states: Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, and Wisconsin, all of which are rated Leans Democratic. All of the current Republican Senate seats remain rated Safe or Likely Republican. Our new Senate ratings are shown on Map 1.

Map 1: Crystal Ball Senate ratings

The other rating change involves moving Rep. Juan Ciscomani (R, AZ-6) from Leans Republican to Toss-up. A Leans rating was probably too generous to Ciscomani in the first place, and the same factors that apply to Lake also apply to Ciscomani—the increasing interest in abortion rights probably does not help him as a Republican (although he has not supported the draconian territorial law in the past) and his leading rival, former state Sen. Kirsten Engel (D), is catching up to him in fundraising. Engel raised $1.19 million in the first quarter, considerably more than Ciscomani’s $635,000 (although that is not a bad quarter itself). Ciscomani is still leading in cash on hand, about $2.5 million to $1.9 million for Engel. This would be a rematch from 2022, as Ciscomani beat Engel 50.7%-49.3%. Financially, this should be more of a fair fight in 2024, as Democratic outside groups largely ignored the race in 2022 while Republicans spent heavily. AZ-6 is a highly competitive district, as President Biden won the district by just about a tenth of a percentage point in 2020, and now-Gov. Katie Hobbs (D-AZ) won it by 4.4 points in 2022 (while Ciscomani was getting elected for the first time). This is a reconfigured and swingier version of the Tucson-based seat that former Reps. Martha McSally (R, AZ-2) and then Ann Kirkpatrick (D, AZ-2) held on last decade’s House map. Hobbs, in defeating Lake, ran further ahead of Biden in this district than in any of the others in Arizona, perhaps indicating a blue trend in the district.

We now list two Arizona House races in the Toss-up category, AZ-6 as well as AZ-1, another marginal Biden-won district held by Rep. David Schweikert (R). There is a competitive Democratic primary to determine who will face Schweikert in the fall.

This House change makes the overall ledger even closer, although Republicans are nominally ahead: We rate 211 races as at least leaning toward Republicans, 206 at least leaning Democratic, and 18 as Toss-ups. Splitting the Toss-ups down the middle would result in a 220-215 Republican House, an even closer House majority than the ones elected in 2020 and 2022. We broadly describe the race for the House as a Toss-up.

We explored last week how Arizona could potentially be the decisive state for president in the fall; it is also a vital state to watch for both the House and the Senate—although we suspect if Lake proves our new rating wrong in November, it will be as part of a Republican Senate majority that’s bigger than just 51 seats.