Arizona Democrat Rep. Ruben Gallego, is a Harvard educated Marine Corp combat veteran whose political future is being watched closely.
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Democrats are furious at Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Some want to draft a primary challenger.
Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona is frequently mentioned as a 2024 challenger.
Gallego has not said if he’s running for Senate but has been a vocal critic of Sinema recently.
Growing Democratic frustration at Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema has led progressives in her home state to clamor for a primary challenger to take her on from the left. And one particular name keeps popping up on her critics’ wish lists: Rep. Ruben Gallego.
Gallego, a Marine who was elected to Congress in 2014 to represent the reliably blue Phoenix area, is not exactly quashing rumors of a challenge. He was hard to miss on cable news on January 14, when “Primary Sinema” rhetoric reached a frenzy shortly after her speech on the Senate floor declaring she wouldn’t nix the filibuster. In an appearance on CNN, Gallego left the door wide open for a run for higher office. In fact, he was already on the attack.
“I’ve known Senator Sinema since we were both in our mid-20s and starting out in politics here in Arizona,” Gallego said. “The only consistency about Senator Sinema’s roles and positions is inconsistency.”
“2024 is a long time from now. I’m focusing on 2022. I never say no to the future,” he said. But, he added, “I think at this point right now she is really disappointing a lot of Arizonans.”
Sinema has stood firm against her party in refusing to vote to end the filibuster, which would help pave the way for Democrats to pass two high-priority voting-rights bills. The senator said she believed removing the filibuster would worsen partisanship in an already divided chamber.
On Tuesday, Emily’s List, one of the largest pro-woman, pro-choice PACs in the country said it was withdrawing support for Sinema over her refusal to support changes to the filibuster that would allow Democrats to pass voting rights legislation.
With Sinema not up for re-election until 2024, a primary challenger may not emerge for some time. But progressives are already taking the prospect seriously. On Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent, told reporters at the Capitol he was open to primary challenges against his colleagues who did not support ending the filibuster.
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A spokesman for Gallego said in an email to Insider that the lawmaker will keep listening to Arizonans and fighting for “democratic values today, tomorrow, and no matter what position” he holds.
“As Rep. Gallego has said before, he never rules anything out, but right now he is focused on running for re-election to the House and helping hold a Democratic majority there,” the spokesperson said.
Gallego joined the Marines after college and found himself deployed to Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, Lima Company, which experienced many casualties in combat, including Gallego’s best friend. In 2021, the congressman released a book about his experience, “They Called Us ‘Lucky’: The Life and Afterlife of the Iraq War’s Hardest Hit Unit.
Gallego has held public office for more than a decade in his home state. He was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 2010 and became assistant minority leader in 2012. He won his bid for Congress in 2014 to represent Arizona’s 7th district.
Chuck Rocha, a Democratic strategist working to boost Latino candidates and one of Gallego’s most vocal backers, said he believed the congressman’s military experience would make him one of the most viable challengers to Sinema in 2024.
“Arizona is a special place with lots of Latinos, lots of moderates,” said Rocha. “You need a unique candidate.”
Rocha launched the “Run, Ruben, Run” campaign to raise money for Gallego should he jump into the race, although he would not disclose how much money the group had raised. Two other groups, the Primary Sinema Project and the Primary Sinema Pledge, have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars but have not yet backed a candidate.
Rocha said that Gallego could “easily” beat Sinema in a primary, but winning a general election in a truly purple state like Arizona requires someone who could appeal to conservatives.
Democrats are the smallest number of registered voters in Arizona, with just 1,372,884 registered as of October 2021, according to the Arizona Secretary of State’s office. They lag behind the state’s 1,504,990 registered Republican voters and the 1,435,129 who identify as “Other”. But the state has a large and growing Latino population and went for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in 2020.
“There’s not any other progressive in the state of Arizona who could get Republicans and moderates to vote for him in great numbers,” Rocha said. “No one else could do that except a Latino combat veteran who has served his country in uniform.”
Sinema’s office did not respond to Insider’s request for comment. She’s not up for re-election until 2024 and in politics, a lot can happen in two years. But for now, Sinema maintains a more conservative stance than fellow Democrats in Congress.
Democrats, who hadn’t held a Senate seat in Arizona since 1995 until Sinema defeated a Republican incumbent Martha McSally in 2018, would need someone who can appeal to voters in a state that Joe Biden won with thin margins.
“Arizona is not a blue state. We should be clear on that,” said Steven Slugocki, former chairman of the Maricopa County Democrats, and said he would support Gallego in a primary. “The challenge of going against a sitting senator is that she is very popular with independents. She has shown she can win this state. She has a history of winning elections in a very tough state.”
Gallego backers acknowledge it won’t be easy to unseat Sinema.
“However, if there is somebody who could do it,” Slugocki said, “I think Ruben would be a very strong, viable alternative that quite a bit of people would get behind.”
Politics, Ruben Gallego, Filibuster, Bernie Sanders, Kyrsten Sinema, Senate, Arizona, chuck rocha, Latino Voters, 2024, Democrats, Voting Rights
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