March 4 marks a milestone in 2024 campaigns in Arizona, it’s the first date candidates can turn in the signatures required to make the ballot.

Before noon on Monday, Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego, who is currently running for the U.S. Senate, had already turned in 14,186 signatures, more than double the amount needed for Democratic candidates to get on the ballot (6,556).

“I think that’s going to be enough to qualify,” Gallego joked to the press in Phoenix as he prepared to drop off stacks of paper filled with signatures.

At a press conference to mark the occasion, Gallego described his campaign as a “grassroots operation, where we are going Arizonan to Arizonan, not being afraid of having conversations.”

Eight months out from the November election, Arizona is already emerging as a key state to watch with a race that could potentially become one of the most important in the nation when it comes to flipping – or retaining power in – the U.S. Senate.

One person it’s known doesn’t have a single signature yet is the politician currently filling the seat Gallego, and others, are running for: incumbent U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

Sinema, currently in her first term in the Senate, hasn’t yet filed the paperwork necessary to start collecting signatures.

“This is the topic in every serious Senatorial discussion in the country,” Stan Barnes, the founder and president of Copper State Consulting Group, said Monday. “And the short answer is, no one knows. Except, perhaps, Senator Sinema. And maybe she doesn’t know!”

The Democrat-turned-Independent now has just 28 days to gather over 42,000 signatures, the substantially higher amount of signatures Independent candidates are required to get to make the ballot in Arizona.

Even if she announced her run, filed paperwork, and began gathering signatures Tuesday, Sinema would need to gather 1,567 signatures per day, every day in order to meet the bare minimum threshold to make the ballot. That isn’t an impossible goal, Barnes said, but it’s one that grows more challenging the longer Sinema puts off an announcement.

Some in Arizona’s political circles, including Barnes, agree that 2024 is a good year to capture an independent vote from voters fed up with the presidential candidates.

Recent primary elections across the nation, particularly the one in the swing state of Michigan, show divides in the vote when it comes to the Republican and Democratic bases.

“She’s an albatross,” said Mike Noble, founder of Arizona-based polling organization Noble Predictive Insights. “I would say, this kind of very unique bird in politics, where her voter coalition – I mean, she pretty much has pretty decent favorables among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.”

Noble and Barnes said Sinema’s involvement with major legislation over the past five years is a strong record to run on as a first-term Senator, regardless of Sinema’s party affiliation (or lack thereof).

It’s expected both Republican candidates, Kari Lake and Mark Lamb, will have enough signatures to make the ballot, although neither campaign shared their signature numbers with ABC15 on Monday.

Republicans are required to gather 7,072 valid signatures to make the ballot as a U.S. Senate candidate. Signature requirement figures are determined based on Jan. 2, 2024 voter registration totals, in accordance with longtime Arizona state law.

Polling from Noble Predictive in February showed an appetite for a third party in Arizona. In a hypothetical Lake-Gallego-Sinema matchup, Sinema scored 23% of the vote, while Gallego took 34% and Lake took 31% while 12% were not sure.

Noble noted that per his recent polling data, Sinema’s participation in a race through November could be beneficial for Lake, as voters were more likely to move from Gallego to Sinema than from Lake to Sinema.

“I’d love to see [Sinema] run,” said Barnes. “Because I want to see what it tells us about Arizona… Are we really above party? Do we really want an independent person? Or do we really want someone to play red and blue and my team versus your team?”