Ruben Gallego, Democratic Representative for Arizona’s 3rd congressional district, hasn’t been quiet about how bad of a job he thinks Kirsten Sinema has been doing as his state’s senator, Even before you leave the Democratic Party to become independent in December. While he’s been shy about challenging Sinema in the past, today he made it clear he wants her Senate seat and will run for the Democratic nomination in 2024.
As Democrats head into the 2024 campaign cycle staring at unlikely odds of retaining a majority in the Senate, Gallego’s race will serve as an alternative to larger debates about how far the Democratic Party has come. However, Gallego is not your typical progressive candidate, and he will have to define a new kind of political identity that does not compromise his beliefs and can win a race in a historic Republican stronghold.
Gallego announced his announcement through a video he shot in his native area of Phoenix, in both English and Spanish. “You are the first group of people besides my family to hear this. I will be challenging Kirsten Sinema for the United States Senate, and I need all of your support,” he said in a video while speaking to fellow veterans at an American Legion Center in the predominantly Latino and Native American town of Guadalupe.
Gallego’s news wasn’t entirely surprising. He was long considered the main major contender that Sinema would face if she decided to run for re-election as a Democrat. A rising star in the Democratic Party and the future of the party as a young, outspoken Latino politician from the Southwest, he has long acted as a candidate aspiring to higher office, including in August, when I described it to Vox.
Since Sinema’s party change, this situation has intensified. He and his allies began releasing internal polls showing what a three-way race might look like between him, Sinema, and Republican like gubernatorial candidate and election denier Carrie Lake, and began assembling a team of strategists, pollsters, and advisors. To help him build the campaign drive.
And when his biggest rival for the Democratic nomination, Phoenix-area Representative and former mayor Greg Stanton, dropped out of the running this month, Gallego was open to running.
Sinema has not decided on the candidacy, although it has submitted preliminary papers with the Federal Election Commission to run. However, it has provided more fodder for Gallego only since December. Just last week, when Sinema was in Davos, Switzerland, for the annual meeting of corporate leaders, economists and educators, Gallego blasted her on Twitter, say“Kirsten Sinema hasn’t held a town hall in Arizona in years. Instead, she travels to Switzerland for a town hall meeting with the rich and powerful,” And “I think that’s why we missed her at all the MLK events in Arizona this week.”
He has long leveled the same criticisms of her tenure: her lack of access or transparency, accommodation to corporate interests, betraying the hopes of the progressives who worked to get her elected in the first place, and embracing the role of an obstacle to her former party’s economic and social agenda in Congress. He refers to that list in his video: “The rich and powerful, they don’t need more advocates. They’re the people who are still trying to choose between groceries and utilities that you need a fighter for.”
Being a fighter is the topic that has defined many of the conversations I had with Gallego during the 2022 midterm, and will define his campaign for the next two years. He has long worried that Democrats-elect are too quiet, reticent, or apprehensive about taking credit for accomplishments, setting out their vision of America, and using the power and mandates that voters have given them. “People aren’t excited about the Democrats because they never know what they’re going to get,” he told me in August. “We get to power and we’re afraid to use that power. We get into this vicious cycle where sometimes we win just because other people are that bad, when we need to show that by winning we’re what you get: you get a middle-class lifestyle. You have to live.” The American Dream.
This theme is evident in his announcement. But he is challenged in Arizona to interpret that vision of more than a third of Arizonans who are registered Democrats. The country is divided Almost evenly to a third between the major parties and registered independents, and candidates who can appeal to the political center tend to do better in statewide races. It helps that Gallego doesn’t look like he’s going to have to survive an agonizing primary campaign against Stanton or Sinema and can spend the next year defining himself as a pragmatic progressive who understands progressive politics, but knows when to compromise and when to fight.
And the Senate race could become somewhat of a proxy war for the future of the Democratic Party regardless. Sinema was the first Democratic senator elected in Arizona since the 1980s, and she ran in that race by positioning herself as an independent and relying on progressive groups to shape the Democratic base. Some political strategists have wondered if Gallego might be too progressive to win the general election, despite the state’s Democratic direction since the Trump years. This election will be an opportunity for the liberal wing of the party to show that radical centrism is not necessary to win statewide — and that Gallego’s identity as the Marine veteran son of a working-class Latino family can convey a poignant message to the state’s burgeoning Latino population.
The Republicans also do not have a clear candidate. Carrie Lake, the state’s most well-known Republican, is still suing her election loss to Gov. Katie Hobbs, and seems to be promising groundbreaking revelations each week as she tries to keep election denial and mistrust in the state’s electoral process alive. She is said to be interested in running for the Senate, but the state’s Republican Party continues to advance existential crisis With the MAGA split, the establishment Republicans have not yet regained their influence. With Trump on the ballot in 2024, this election could be further confirmation that the MAGA Republican system is toxic in the state.
Right now, the 2024 Senate race is on. Gallego takes on the mantle of a working-class hero. What kind of challenge awaits him from the Republicans and Sinema is now an open question.