The Evolution of Kyrsten Sinema, From Homeless Child to Senate Candidate

The Times sought interviews with Ms. Sinema’s family members to discuss her experiences with homelessness. Her mother twice hung up on a reporter. In an email, her stepfather, Mr. Howard, said they were “proud of” her accomplishments but otherwise requested privacy.

Separately, Ms. Sinema’s campaign provided a statement from her stepfather and mother saying they lacked power and water. But asked in a subsequent email about why he would have been paying electricity, gas and telephone bills, Mr. Howard did not respond.

In a Washington Post story last month, her step-aunt said of Ms. Sinema’s account: “I realize this tugs at people’s heartstrings and that was what she was going for, but, you know, it’s not the truth.”

For Ms. Sinema, who has labored in the minority since coming to Congress, her Horatio Alger-like story is as crucial to her campaign as anything from her relatively short tenure in Washington. Having faced no serious primary on her left, she has run one of the most moderate-sounding and cautious Senate campaigns this year, keeping the media at arms-length and avoiding controversial issues.

Eventually, Ms. Sinema’s stepfather and mother found more work and a measure of financial stability. With the Mormon leader at their local church helping with a mortgage, the family left the gas station in 1987 and moved into a farmhouse in the county.

And there were few brighter and more ambitious schoolchildren in the county than Ms. Sinema.

By 16, she had earned enough high school credits to graduate — and she did, as valedictorian. A prestigious scholarship to Brigham Young University in hand, she would go on to finish her undergraduate work in two years and then return to Arizona with a job as a social worker.

She put Florida behind her, beginning her rise in politics with the Green Party and then as a progressive Arizona Democrat and now as a centrist House member.

“A number of years ago I started telling some of my friends, some folks I worked with, about my childhood. It was difficult,” she told The Times. “But what I found is it was very meaningful to them and it mattered to them. It helped people understand what motivates me, why I care so much about the stuff I care about. I think it helps people understand what drives the work that I do.”