Ruben Gallego officially launched his highly anticipated bid for Kyrsten Sinema’s Senate seat Monday, setting up what will likely be a very contentious battle to represent Arizona in the upper chamber. A Gallego Senate bid wasn’t a question of if but when as the congressman has not so quietly built up a campaign team, which includes some of the same faces behind Raphael Warnock, John Fetterman, and Mark Kelly’s campaigns.
And he’s been very public about his distaste for Sinema, most recently after she spent MLK weekend rubbing elbows with power brokers at the annual Davos World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alps, instead of in Arizona. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Gallego dismissed Sinema as “tone deaf” and referred to her more headline-grabbing moments as “tacky” “performance art.” These aspersions Gallego cast last week are likely something of an amuse-bouche to his Senate campaign launch. “The rich and the powerful, they don’t need more advocates,” Gallego said in a video announcing his campaign, which made its way around social media Monday morning. “It’s the people that are still trying to decide between groceries and utilities that need a fighter for them.”
Gallego announced his bid with what appeared to be a veiled punch at Sinema. “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,” the congressman said in the video, seemingly a nod not only to Sinema’s Davos appearance, but her stand against raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans during Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act deliberations. “I’m sorry that politicians have let you down, but I’m going to change that.”
Yet it’s still a bit of an open question what kind of tone Gallego will strike over the course of the next year and a half; will he run a bitter race against the sitting senator? Speaking with Vanity Fair last week, Gallego gave a little window into his thinking: “There are a lot of reasons why the Democrats won in Arizona in 2022,” Gallego said. “But I will say, the one thing, the underlying thing that people aren’t pointing out is that all the nice people won their elections.” In his estimation, Arizonans don’t have an appetite for the brashness of TV newscaster turned MAGA darling Kari Lake (who is being floated as a possible Republican candidate), or Sinema’s theatrical thumbs-down on raising the minimum wage. “The harsh candidates, the candidates who were kind of playing cynical politics or just in general being harsh to voters, harsh to whoever—lost,” he said.
The ground is fertile in Arizona for a Senate showdown. Republicans still see Arizona as a top target, and a pathway back to the Senate majority—particularly given Sinema’s flagging popularity in the state. The stakes have only been compounded by Sinema’s decision to leave the Democratic Party and register as an independent. Early polls indicate the sitting Democrat turned independent could prove to be a spoiler for her former colleagues. A recent poll from Public Policy Polling showed Sinema with just 13% of the vote in a three-way race; Gallego and failed Arizona gubernatorial candidate Lake, who received 40% and 41%, respectively. (Lake has denied any plans for a Senate bid. Sinema’s office did not respond to a request for comment and Sinema has not said whether or not she will run.)
Should Sinema run, Gallego will have to curb the number of Democrats and independent voters that defect to the incumbent. This weekend, according to an email to supporters, Gallego will appear at a string of rallies across Arizona in his newfound role as Senate hopeful. He is scheduled to appear in Tucson, Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Pinal County.