Will Sen. Mark Kelly's half-stand on the fillibuster cost him the election?

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U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly said he would back one-time changes to the filibuster rule to allow a vote on voting rights legislation.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly said he would back one-time changes to the filibuster rule to allow a vote on voting rights legislation.

After two years of stalling, Sen. Mark Kelly finally was forced to take an actual position on the filibuster.

Kelly sided with his fellow Democrats — well, most of them anyway — and voted to change the filibuster rule in an effort to pass the party's voting rights bill despite united Republican opposition.

“If campaign finance and voting rights reforms are blocked again this week, I will support the proposed changes to pass them with a majority vote,” he said, hours before Wednesday's vote. “Protecting the vote-by-mail system used by a majority of Arizonans and getting dark money out of our elections is too important to let fall victim to Washington dysfunction.”

As for whether to eliminate the filibuster rule, Kelly’s apparently still studying, and for good reason.

A new poll of Arizona voters suggests that could cause Kelly problems in what’s expected to be a bruiser of a re-election campaign this fall.

But voting to suspend the 60-vote rule only for the voting rights bill shouldn't hurt him.

Are voter protections really 'radically liberal'?

Naturally, Republicans promptly lost their minds over Kelly agreeing to do an end run around them, going so far as to call this former Navy fighter pilot and astronaut a coward.

“Coward Mark Kelly has finally admitted that he would rather appease progressive activists and Democrat leadership in Washington than stand up for Arizonans,” National Republican Senate Committee spokeswoman Katharine Cooksey said. “Kelly is no moderate. He is a far-Left senator who will do whatever Joe Biden and Washington Democrat leadership tell him to in order to pass a radically liberal agenda.”

Cooksey needs to cut back on the caffeine.

Is it really “radically liberal” for Democrats to propose federal voter protections after watching Republicans, in state after state, impose restrictions on voting just because Donald Trump lost?

Is it “radically liberal” to make Election Day a holiday, making it easier for all voters to cast a ballot? Or to require the disclosure of deep-pocketed donors in “dark money” campaigns, so that we know who is trying to influence our vote?

Is it “radically liberal” to ensure that the Arizona Legislature cannot dismantle the wildly popular early voting system used by 90% of the state’s voters?

Lest you forget, two of the four Republicans running for governor – Kari Lake and Matt Salmon – have called for an end to the state’s 30-year-old early voting program.

This, to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. Kelly is right to take their threat seriously.

Kelly's filibuster decision was hardly voluntary

Still, Republicans need not have worried that this “radically liberal” attempt to ensure that all voters have a voice will actually pass the Senate.

Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, as promised, made sure of that. They supported the filibuster rule that requires 60 votes on most legislation, on the theory that lasting change comes by forging compromise.

They are, of course, right.

But Republicans have repeatedly demonstrated that they aren’t interested in negotiating a better bill, to try to rid the legisition of weakened voter ID requirements and federal funding of campaigns and other provisions they oppose.

Why compromise, after all, when you can simply veto? This, while continuing to "reform" state election laws across the country on a simple majority votes.

Kelly’s decision to take a partial stand, after two years of dodging the filibuster question, was commendable but hardly voluntary. He was outed by his own party, by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s insistence on taking a vote this week no matter how doomed the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act might be.

Still, it’s about time we know where Kelly stands.

If change is narrow, it shouldn't hurt him much

While Republicans are delighted that Kelly was forced to take a position, it may not provide them quite the campaign bludgeon they envision.

In a new poll by OH Predictive Insights, 39% of Arizona voters surveyed said they support the filibuster, while just 24% oppose it. The rest aren’t sure what to think.

As for those all-important independent voters, they leaned closer to Republicans than Democrats, with 34% supporting the filibuster rule and 22% opposing it. A whopping 44% had no opinion.

But when it comes to changing the rule to pass the voting rights bill, voters were evenly split.

According to the poll, 29% of Arizona voters support this one-time suspension while 30% oppose it, with the rest undecided. Independents split, 23% to 27%.

“If this is a one-off circumstance, for the voting rights issue, it probably won’t have a negative electoral impact on Mark Kelly,” OH Predictive Insights pollster Mike Noble told me. “However, if this becomes a future change, it could wind up turning from a nothing burger to a potential disadvantage.”

The poll of 855 registered voters was taken Jan. 11-13 via an opt-in online panel. The margin of error is 3.35%.

Kelly’s margin of error in a toss-up election, meanwhile, remains minuscule.

Translation: If the word "filibuster" comes up again this year, look for him to launch into another extensive study of the issue.

Reach Roberts at laurie.roberts@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LaurieRoberts.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Will Sen. Mark Kelly's filibuster half-stand cost him the election?

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