The 2018 race for the Senate between Republican Martha McSally and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema was one of the most hotly contested in the country. Polls leading up to Election Day showed each candidate running neck-and-neck, and the intensity of the race was only more intriguing after all the votes were cast.

McSally led on election night, but it was Sinema who ultimately came out on top by 2.3 percent. The race ended up mattering less than expected, as a month later, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey appointed McSally to fill the seat long held by former Sen. John McCain (and briefly by Jon Kyl).

Arguably, however, that isn’t the only reason that the 2018 contest wasn’t as significant at the end of the day. Another is that McSally and Sinema actually haven’t voted as differently on consequential legislation as one might think.

Spending Tracker shows that the two Arizona senators have voted for almost identical amounts of spending since being in office. In the 116th Congress, McSally has voted for $2.33 trillion in new spending, while Sinema has supported $2.35 trillion. Their voting records on major pieces of legislation, according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, are almost identical.

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, both senators have voted in favor of all of the recent COVID-19 spending, including the CARES Act, Paycheck Protection Program and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. However, they also have supported most other large spending priorities this Congress, including the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2019, the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020, the National Defense Authorization Act and the Great American Outdoors Act.

So where have they differed? McSally was one of only  eight senators to oppose the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019, which provided emergency spending “to several federal departments and agencies for expenses related to the consequences of recent wildfires, hurricanes, volcanos, earthquakes, typhoons, and other natural disasters.”

Amazingly, however, beyond this one bill, Sinema and McSally have voted the exact same on all legislation that has been signed into law and received a score from CBO in the Spending Tracker database! When all votes are taken into account—not just those that the president has signed—McSally has actually voted for more spending than Sinema. These numbers are broken out in the table below:

Arizona Senator Spending Comparison 

    Enacted Legislation All Votes
Martha McSally R $2,332,311,590,000 $2,392,184,220,000
Kyrsten Sinema D $2,350,266,590,000 $2,366,525,220,000


The comparison between the two senators gets more interesting when considered along with their colleagues in the House. The dispersion between members in the Arizona delegation is quite substantial: Rep. Andy Biggs, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, has voted for the least amount of new spending (about $1.37 trillion), while Tom O’Halleran has voted for the most (more than $2.35 trillion). Biggs was one of two members in the House (Colorado Rep. Ken Buck being the other) to vote against the first COVID-19 relief bill.

What might surprise observers, however, is that Martha McSally has voted for more new spending than all members in the House, except for O’Halleran and Rep. Greg Stanton. This includes all of her fellow Arizona Republicans, as well as three of the five Democrats: Raúl Grijalva, Ann Kirkpatrick and Ruben Gallego.

In this sense, it can be argued that McSally’s voting record on substantive legislation during her time in the Senate has more closely resembled the voting records of the state’s Democrats than its Republicans. This observation holds true even when excluding coronavirus-related spending, as seen in the table below:

Arizona Delegation Spending Comparison 

New Spending New Spending
With COVID-19 Without COVID-19
Martha McSally R $2,332,311,590,000 $430,680,590,000
Kyrsten Sinema D $2,350,266,590,000 $448,635,590,000
Andy Biggs R $1,975,762,450,000 $59,743,000,000
Raúl Grijalva D $1,993,502,000,000 $376,561,600,000
Paul Gosar R $1,993,925,000,000 $60,167,000,000
Debbie Lesko R $1,999,601,990,000 $91,414,450,000
David Schweikert R $2,010,321,450,000 $91,986,000,000
Ann Kirkpatrick D $2,327,933,590,000 $448,635,590,000
Ruben Gallego D $2,327,948,590,000 $427,724,140,000
Greg Stanton D $2,327,948,590,000 $448,635,590,000
Tom O’Halleran D $1,848,192,890,000 $448,635,590,000


For those wondering how McSally and Sinema might compare when also impacting revenue votes, the answer is pretty much the same. In their time in Congress, Martha McSally voted to add $3.27 trillion to the national debt, while Kyrsten Sinema voted for $3.29 trillion.

If the data is any indication, partisan expectations about the future of Arizona are limited indeed—and the potential future voting record of someone like Mark Kelly might not be as different from the status quo as one might think.

Image credit: Thomas Trompeter