Kyrsten Sinema vs. the Left: An Old Rivalry’s New Turn

“I almost feel she is responding to her understanding of what the left is based on her engagement with leftist politics a decade and a half ago,” said Emily Kirkland, the executive director of Progress Arizona, a liberal advocacy group. “She doesn’t understand that the frustration is not just with a scattering of groups on the left.”

Then there is her political style — for progressives, her brand of centrism comes across as aggressive, even trolling. Recall the moment in March when, during a vote on raising the minimum wage, she sauntered down to the well of the Senate and gave a flippant thumbs-down, a move that many on the left translated into a gesture involving a different finger, pointed in a different direction.

“It can feel like she is more interested in making progressives mad than in engaging with the substance of the topic at hand,” Ms. Kirkland said.

But it’s at least plausible that another sticking point for progressives is that so far, her centrism seems to work. She is regularly in contact with President Biden, on the phone and at the White House. She helped broker a deal between Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, and Senator Pat Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, on the Covid relief bill. She’s been working with Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, on a minimum-wage bill. And now she’s making headlines on infrastructure.

All of which means that the next few weeks are critical for her stature in Washington, and in Arizona. If the infrastructure bill goes through — and it still faces obstacles, some of them out of Ms. Sinema’s control — then she could cement her reputation as not just a maverick, but also as a savior of a bipartisanship that people had largely written off. That doesn’t mean the left will fall in love with her, but at least they might give her some grudging respect.

“She absolutely has to get a win like that to point to,” Mr. Kinsey said. “If she continues to work with Republicans but doesn’t have something to show for it, she’ll look ineffective. If she can, she will show there is a method to the madness.”

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