Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego, who’s made no secret of his dislike for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s Senate performance the last couple of years, officially entered the 2024 Senate race on Monday.
He’s pitching himself as the anti-Sinema: Championing working people over the interests of, say, private equity or the pharmaceutical lobby. In his launch video, the Harvard-educated Iraq veteran, who’s represented Phoenix since 2015, leans on his biography as the son of an immigrant mother who grew up in poverty.
While he doesn’t name Sinema, Gallego takes direct aim at her style of politics (in a nutshell: going to Davos instead of home-state MLK Day events.)
“There is no lobbyist for working families,” he says in the video. “We could argue different ways about how to do it. But at the core, if you’re more likely to be meeting with the powerful than the powerless, you’re doing this job incorrectly.”
Gallego has been hiring some of the most in-demand talent in Democratic politics as he gears up for a bid. Among his top strategists will be Rebecca Katz, who served a similar role in John Fetterman’s 2022 Pennsylvania Senate bid. He’s also hired GBAO Strategies, the polling firm that helped bring Fetterman and Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock across the finish line, and Chuck Rocha, a Latino outreach and mobilization strategist. He’s made hires from Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly, too. In short, Gallego has hired a lot of people with successful records in the delicate art of convincing both progressive and moderate Democrats that their clients are one of them.
With fellow Arizona congressman Greg Stanton deciding to pass on a Senate bid, Gallego could cruise to the Democratic nomination. How this unusual race ultimately plays out, though, will depend on a few unknown factors.
Does Sinema run?
You may recall that Sinema quit the Democratic Party to become an independent late last year. The thinking was that this was a desperate move for self-preservation. There’s no demographic in Arizona, including Democratic voters, that likes Sinema, and she could lose a Democratic primary. So instead, she would become an independent and dare Arizona Democrats to run another candidate whose general-election bid she could spoil.
Well, now they’re running a candidate, and he’s having no trouble hiring talent (and he probably won’t struggle raising money online, either).
Sinema will now have to decide whether to launch an independent reelection bid, creating a three-way race in which there may be little space for her in the top two.
“I’m not really thinking about or talking about the election,” Sinema said in a local radio interview on Friday. “A never-ending focus on campaign politics is why so many people hate politics.”
Do Arizona Republicans nominate a dingdong?
If Arizona Republicans can nominate a vaguely normal person operating within the consensus parameters of human behavior, they have quite a flip opportunity here. A candidate like ex-Gov. Doug Ducey, for example, could consolidate Republican voters well enough in a three-way race to lock out Gallego or Sinema from meaningful contention.
Or Arizona Republicans could nominate a dingdong, as they did last year in their selections of Blake Masters for Senate and Kari Lake for governor. Sure enough, they’re both reportedly considering 2024 Senate bids. Others may come out of the woodwork. They always do, in Arizona.
If this were to become a competitive three-way race, it would require Republicans to do that which they’re perfectly capable of: nominating a composite character of dozens of Jan. 6 defendants, allowing Sinema to operate from the middle of the electorate. Sinema may want to wait to see how the GOP primary field develops.
What do Democratic leaders do?
It’s not their favorite question.
In December, when outgoing Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chair Sen. Gary Peters was asked how they would treat the newly independent Sinema, he told reporters, “At this moment, I’m really happy to say that’s the job of the next DSCC chair.” Little did Peters know that the next DSCC chair would be him, again, after no one else would take the job.
“Sen. Sinema is a friend of mine,” Peters said Monday, “and I don’t know if she’s planning on running or what her intentions are, and I don’t want to get out in front of what she wants to do.”
If Sinema runs, she will put Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in the most unpleasant position of all. He’ll be torn between two cross-cutting directives for a Senate party leader: to support his incumbents, and to support Democrats. While Sinema is an independent, she still takes her committee assignments from Democrats and possesses a key vote on nominations and legislation that Schumer would prefer not to lose. Republicans at the DSCC’s counterpart, who’ve had a lousy last couple of years, did not miss the opportunity of Gallego’s announcement to sneer at the Democratic discomfort on the horizon.
“The Democrat civil war is on in Arizona,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Philip Letsou said in a statement Monday. “Chuck Schumer has a choice: stand with open borders radical Ruben Gallego or back his incumbent, Senator Kyrsten Sinema.”
In the end, the sheer amount of local and national blowback Schumer and the DSCC would get from Democratic voters for supporting Sinema—especially if there’s no clear path to victory for her—makes such an overt move seem unlikely. Expect Schumer, however, to quickly move on from questions about this decision for as long as he possibly can. Ideally for him, and most left-of-center people in the United States, Sinema preempts the decision, retiring to become a lobbyist.