Arizona Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego announced Monday he will seek the nomination for Senate, seeking to oust one-time Democrat Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who has been both an essential vote and source of frustration to the party she left last month.
“The problem isn’t that Senator Sinema abandoned the Democratic Party – it’s that she’s abandoned Arizona,” Gallego said, referring to Sinema’s December announcement she would become an independent.
“She’s repeatedly broken her promises, and fought for the interests of big pharma and Wall Street at our expense. I’m running for the U.S. Senate because the rich and the powerful don’t need any more advocates in Washington – but families who can’t afford groceries do. As a Marine, I never back down from a fight, and in the Senate I’ll fight to make sure every Arizonan has the same chance that I had at the American Dream,” Gallego said in a statement.
Sinema has been an ongoing source of irritation for Democrats, almost taunting the party that elected her by dangling her vote on major pieces of legislation where every Democratic vote was needed for passage in the closely divided chamber. But Sinema has also delivered the vote that matters the most: that for majority leader, putting Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York in charge.
Sinema is not caucusing with Republicans in the Senate, and has not committed to caucusing with former fellow Democrats, either. However, Sinema has not in the past attended Democratic caucus meetings, where lawmakers discuss policy and strategy.
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Sinema had cast herself as a sort of Democratic version of the late GOP Sen. John McCain, another Arizonan who would buck his own party on matters he felt transcended politics. But Sinema, in her first term, has not built the sort of goodwill with Arizona voters to weather the sort of frustrations McCain, a war hero and beloved figure in Arizona, survived.
That has fueled a movement by progressive Democrats to defeat Sinema, whom they see as an unreliable ally when it comes to Democrats’ agenda in Congress. After announcing her flip from the Democratic Party to being an independent, Sinema filed paperwork in December to run for reelection as an independent.
Gallego, in ads released in English and Spanish, touts his climb from being the son of a poor, immigrant mother, and having to be a teenage father figure to his three siblings because of an absent father, to attending Harvard University and becoming a member of Congress.
Democrats already have a very challenging Senate elections map in 2024. Of 34 seats up for election, Democrats have to defend 23. That includes seats now held by Sen. Sherrod Brown in increasingly red Ohio, and by Sen. Joe Manchin in West Virginia, one of the most reliably Republican states in the nation.
Manchin – another Democrat who has held up his party’s legislation with withholding his vote and trying to negotiate watered-down versions – recently said he would support Sinema for reelection.
Arizona has been shifting toward Democrats recently and represents a widening regional opportunity in the Southwest for Democrats, in large part because of the support of Hispanic voters. President Joe Biden won the Grand Canyon State in 2020, the first time since 1996 that Democratic presidential candidate has taken the state.
Further, Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly won reelection in November, and Democrat Katie Hobbs wrested the governorship from Republicans, beating GOP nominee Kari Lake by a razor-thin margin.
Gallego seeks to become the first Hispanic senator from Arizona, a state where 30% of the population and 20% of the voters are Latino.
Arizona is critical to Democrats holding onto their majority, and a divided race could imperil their hold on the seat. Lake, who lost a court case in December challenging her loss in the gubernatorial race, is reportedly mulling a run for the Senate seat.
The anti-Sinema crowd immediately hailed the new entry into the race.
“We are thrilled that there’s now a Democratic candidate in this race ready to take on Kyrsten Sinema and win,” Sacha Haworth, spokeswoman for the Replace Sinema campaign at Change for Arizona 2024 PAC, said in a statement.
Republicans, too, welcomed Gallego’s entry into the race, where a divided Democratic vote could deliver the Senate seat to the GOP in 2024.
“The Democrat civil war is on in Arizona. Chuck Schumer has a choice: stand with open borders radical Ruben Gallego or back his incumbent, Senator Kyrsten Sinema,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Philip Letsou said in a statement.