Arizona Democrats, determined to kick Kyrsten Sinema out of the party and defeat her when her term expires in 2024, have been looking for a strong primary opponent. Most roads lead to Phoenix Congressman Gallego, described by former Maricopa County Democratic Party chair Steven Slugocki for Hill readers this morning as "a strong progressive leader who has accomplished a lot of things in a short time. He’s passed a lot of bills, he’s a veteran, he’s a Latino. He’s a strong voice in Congress who’s getting things done. He has a lot of support in the party as well as with Democrats across the state." Sounds about right, though by "strong progressive," don't think "the Squad." He represents the bluest district in the state-- with a D+24 PVI, where Trump won just 24.7% of the vote-- but doesn't sport the strong "A" score that Raul Grijalva, who represents a slightly less Blue district, does. Gallego has a respectable "B" score as the 71st most progressive member of the House, maybe more appealing to Arizona independent voters than a straight A would be. He's been solid on everything, though sometimes strays from the progressive line when it comes to military votes.
Max Greenwood tried assessing the chances of a Gallego-Sinema race.
“Will he run? I don’t know, but he’d be a strong person if he does consider it,” one Arizona Democratic strategist said. “If that’s something he decides to do, I think he’d have a lot of support. He’s very popular.”
Several Democrats who spoke with The Hill pointed to Gallego’s personal story-- he’s a Harvard-educated combat veteran who grew up poor in Chicago and quickly rose through the ranks of Arizona politics-- as a major strength should he decide to mount a statewide campaign.
“You have a great candidate who is a Latino combat veteran, who is a Marine who served overseas on tours of duty seeing some of the most active and horrific things in war, who literally came from nothing, who has this redemption story,” said Chuck Rocha, a political consultant whose super PAC, Nuestro PAC, launched a campaign last week to draft Gallego into running.
“I’ve been doing campaigns for 30 years,” he added. “I could sell that to a Republican.”
At the same time, one Arizona Democrat noted that while Gallego and Sinema have reached a “detente,” their relationship with one another is “not one to where he wouldn’t run against her.”
What Greenwood doesn't mention is that Gallego and Sinema have clashed-- quietly-- before. Sinema's House district-- the 9th-- is a swing district and when she ran in 2012 it was also an open district. She beat a more progressive state Senator, David Schapira in the primary and then went on to narrowly beat far right Paradise Valley mayor Vernon Parker in a count that took a few days to finalize. Although today, AZ-09 is a safe Democratic seat with a PVI of D+9, when Sinema ran, the PVI was R+1. In 2012, Obama beat Romney 51-47%. Last year Biden beat Trump 61-37%. The district includes Mesa, Tempe, Chandler, Camelback East and a bit of south Scottsdale.
Sinema's first race was really tough-- so tough that, she turned from being a liberal-leaning Democrat to running for reelection as a raging conservative psychopath, one of the only Democrats in the country to run with an endorsement from the US Chamber of Commerce. She was well on the road to turning into a full fledged right-winger, which she achieved at chair of the Blue Dog coalition and running up the single most Republican voting record iff any Democrat in the House. Even though she was seen as >the worst-- as in most GOP-oriented-- Democratic freshman, she almost didn't run in the 9th. Ed Pastor decided to retire in 2014 and the deep blue seat (AZ-07) was open. She announced she would move a district west. Progressives and Latinos went bonkers. No one wanted a super-conservative DINO with her shitty voting record in a safe blue seat like the 7th district. Gallego was clearly everyone's favorite and she, furious and vowing revenge on progressives, backed down and ran in her own district. No one challenged her with a primary and she was reelected handily, but has ever since nurtured a demonic hatred towards progressives.
OK, fast forward to 2018. Sinema, as noted, has been the worstDemocrat in the House, voting with the GOP again and again and again. Back in Arizona, Jeff Flake, driven into retirement by Trump, was leaving an open seat. Chuck Schumer didn't pick Sinema as the DSCC choice despite her being the worst Democrat in the House; hating progressive values nearly as much as she does, he picked her because she was he worst Democrat in the House. In helping her secure the nomination, she cleared the field for her and that included interest in the seat from Ruben Gallego.
Sinema beat fellow congresswoman, Martha McSally-- then still a quasi-mainstream conservative-- 1,191,100 (50.0%) to 1,135,200 (47.6%). Had Schumer not interfered in the primary process, it is likely that Gallego would be Senator now... and making Schumer's life much easier. Among the other prominent names who endorsed Sinema in the primary, by the way, were Vice President Joe Biden and a dozen U.S. senators, including Kamala Harris. Gallego also endorsed her against the progressive woman who ran, Deedra Abboud, who had no real chance, but was backed by DFA, Justice Democrats and People for Bernie. Sinema crushed her 79.25% to 20.75%.
So will Gallego run against her in 2024? Don't expect an answer any time soon. I doubt he wants to toss away a safe congressional career for any anything-goes Senate primary... if Sinema even decides to run as a Democrat-- or at all-- again. Some say she may run as an independent, others that she's going to switch to the GOP and others that she will retire to become a lobbyist... although I doubt she has many Democratic friends who would welcome her lobbying efforts. But no one knows what's going to happen! After all, she's a notorious bribe taker and could even wind up being prosecuted and going to prison. Nah... that's the one thing we can all be certain won't happen.
Greenwood noted that "with more than two years to go before her name will appear on a primary ballot, Sinema boasts nearly $3.6 million in the bank-- more than five times the amount Gallego currently has in his campaign account. Yet, Democrats say that Gallego has plenty of fundraising potential should he ultimately decide to run for Senate in 2024. Rocha said that the purpose of his effort to recruit Gallego into the Senate race is to raise money that could be 'turned over to him the day he announces' a campaign." Really? Is that how it works? I don't think so and I would suggest people be careful about what they do with their money at this point.
Other groups in Arizona are taking a less-focused approach to a 2024 primary challenge to Sinema. Primary Sinema PAC, which launched last week, said that it would raise money to fund grassroots groups in Arizona that could lay the groundwork for a potential primary campaign “when a strong challenger emerges.”
Gallego has so far brushed off the calls to challenge Sinema. In a statement, a spokesperson for Gallego said that the congressman is focused on passing Biden’s agenda and making sure Democrats hold their House majority in 2022.
“Congressman Gallego is focused right now on passing President Biden’s infrastructure packages, ensuring Arizona’s redistricting maps are fair to the state’s entire electorate, and working to keep the Democratic House majority in 2022,” Jacques Petit said. “For Congressman Gallego, 2024 is about holding the White House and reminding voters which party showed up for them with solutions to grow the economy and build back better.”
Still, Gallego has eyed a Senate bid before. He ultimately decided against running in 2019 after Kelly entered the race. Kelly went on to beat former Sen. Martha McSally (R), putting both of Arizona’s Senate seats in Democratic hands for the first time since 1953.
For some Democrats, though, Sinema is different.
Garrick McFadden, a former vice chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, railed against Sinema as an “obstructionist” whose opposition to key parts of Biden’s agenda had undermined the very work that helped secure Democratic victories in Arizona in recent years.
He warned of a “brain drain” within the state Democratic Party leadership, predicting that party members and officials would leave in order to support efforts to primary Sinema.
“Grassroots groups, advocacy organizations, unions, etc. will not work for her and will work against her,” McFadden tweeted. “She has betrayed her friends and the promise she made to the Arizona people. She wants to play games, well in 2023 we start playing games with her.”
One Arizona Democratic operative who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about state party dynamics said that Sinema has few remaining allies in Arizona.
But the prospect of a 2024 primary challenge also raises a dilemma for Arizona Democrats. While Gallego has a “really compelling story” and is well-liked by insiders in both Arizona and Washington, “he’s probably not a good fit for Arizona on a statewide basis,” the operative said.
“You can see how he would do well in a primary against Kyrsten Sinema, but there’s a near zero chance he would win statewide,” the operative said. “He just doesn’t have a record of winning Republican votes. And that’s something Democrats will really have to ask themselves in seeking to defeat Sinema, is do they want someone to primary her who will almost certainly hand the seat to Republicans?”
Yet it appears unlikely that the talk of primarying Sinema will settle down any time soon. The Democratic operative noted that even if Sinema agrees to support the reconciliation bill, there are still other sticking points, such as her opposition to reforming the filibuster in the Senate.
“I think reconciliation will pass, but she’s still going to have the filibuster after that,” the operative said. “This conversation is not going away. This isn’t going to be the last time she’s going to be in this position. It’s just not.”