Arizona has elected its first female Senator: Here's why Kyrsten Sinema’s win is a big deal

Taylor Cromwell
·MAKERS
Senator-elect Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, meets with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 13, 2018. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Senator-elect Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, meets with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 13, 2018. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, after winning one of the most closely watched national races, is heading to Congress. Flipping former Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat from red to blue, Sinema will be the first Democratic senator from Arizona in nearly three decades.

“Now it’s time to get to work,” Sinema said in her victory speech on Monday, calling for Arizonans to put country over party and come together in unity.

The race between Sinema and her Republican opponent, Martha McSally, kept the nation on edge as the race ran one week past Election Day, while every vote was painstakingly counted. As Sinema’s lead neared 38,000 votes on Monday night, McSally called her, conceding the race. “I wish [Sinema] the best,” she said on Twitter. “I’m inspired by Arizonans’ spirit, and our state’s best days are ahead of us.”

Here’s why her win is such a big deal:

She’s the first Democratic senator to represent Arizona in decades.

The Republican Party has safely held this Senate seat for 24 years; its most recent occupant was Sen. Jeff Flake. Sinema’s win is seen as a huge shift in party lines for a state that has been solidly red for more than two decades.

Arizona will now have six Democrats in its congressional delegation, narrowly outnumbering the five Republicans. It’s the first time the state has had more Democrats than Republicans since the 1960s.

She’s the first woman from Arizona to join the Senate.

Sinema will join a growing number of women who have made history as the first woman to represent their state in the Senate, like Republican Marsha Blackburn, the first woman senator from Tennessee.

She’s the first openly bisexual person in the Senate.

The next session of Congress will be more diverse than ever, and Sinema will be the first openly bisexual person in the Senate, joining Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin in giving a voice to LGBTQ women.

“We can work with people who are different than us. We can be friends with people who are different than us,” Sinema said in her speech. “We can love and care about people who are different than us. We can keep people who are different than us safe. We can be good people who care deeply about each other, even when we disagree.”

At 42, she’s one of the youngest members of the Senate.

Sinema is more than two decades younger than the median age in the Senate: 65. But don’t read her youth to mean that she’s a novice. Sinema worked her way from being homeless as a child to becoming a social worker who eventually went on to earn both a law degree and a PhD. She’s spent the last five years as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

She’s known for being a centrist Democrat.

In the House, she was a member of the congressional “Blue Dog Coalition,” the most conservative group of House Democrats. During her Senate race, she focused her priorities on veterans’ rights, law enforcement and immigration.

“Everyone recognizes that [the government] is broken,” she said. “And really, we all know the solution. We, the citizens of this great country, we must fix it. We must be an active part of the solution. We must be willing to put down our sticks sharpened for battle. We must be willing to turn to our neighbors and pick them up instead.”