Rep. Gallego coyly mulling Senate bid as liberal groups push him to run

By: - February 22, 2019 10:58 am

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix. Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Congressman Ruben Gallego is still exploring a U.S. Senate run, but he isn’t ready to take the plunge.

The 7th District Democrat told the Arizona Mirror Thursday that he doesn’t have a timeline for deciding whether to enter the 2020 special election to replace the late Republican Sen. John McCain.

“We’re heading in the direction to make a decision,” was the most that he would concede.

The biggest factor, he said, will be his 2-year old son, Michael.

“I’m a single dad, I have to make sure I spend time with my son,” he said.

His ex-wife, Kate Gallego, is running to be the next mayor of Phoenix.

The 39-year-old congressman has met with top Senate Democrats about a possible campaign, and he’s got advocacy groups and friends in Arizona politics lining up to support him.

Gallego met in January with Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) at the DSCC headquarters in Washington, D.C., to discuss a possible Senate bid, The Hill reported.

They discussed how Democrats can win the seat now held by Republican Sen. Martha McSally, Gallego told the Mirror.

“We talked about the changing demographics of Arizona and how we have a strong base of voters coming out in 2020,” he said.

With multiple Democrats considering entering the race, the Senate Democratic leaders are staying out for now, but they’re hopeful about turning Arizona blue, Gallego said.

Before Sen. Kyrsten Sinema won her seat last fall, Arizona hadn’t had a Democratic senator since Dennis DeConcini left the chamber in 1995. The last time Democrats held both of Arizona’s U.S. Senate seats was 1953.

If he runs, Gallego could face a tough primary. Mark Kelly — a former astronaut and the husband of former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords — already announced his candidacy this month.

Gallego isn’t worried that a competitive Democratic primary would hurt the party’s chances of claiming the seat.

He said he’s known Kelly for many years, calling him a “really nice guy.” A primary, Gallego said, would help Democrats to “underline policy issues” and also “work out the kinks,” while exciting voters.

Nathan Gonzales, who tracks national races as the editor and publisher of the newsletter Inside Elections, agrees that primaries can be helpful to candidates.

“It can force candidates to get their campaign operations up and running more quickly. It makes them start to put infrastructure in place that’s going to be necessary for the entire campaign, it helps candidates get into the rhythm of being a candidate — particularly for someone like Kelly.  who has not been a candidate before.”

But the timing of the primary — slated for late August 2020 — might be concerning for Democrats, Gonzales added.

That “leaves very little time for the nominee to turn around and focus on the general election,” he said. “I think someone on the Democratic side is probably going to need to start making the case against McSally before the primary is over.”

Gonzales rates the race a toss-up: “I think it’s going to be one of the marquee races in the 2020 cycle, no matter who the nominee is on the Democratic side.”

Gallego is a Chicago native and the son of Mexican and Colombian immigrants. He’s a Marine Corps combat veteran of the Iraq War and a former assistant minority leader in the Arizona House of Representatives.

He sees himself as a progressive Democrat “on some issues,” noting that Kelly is “probably in the same vein, too.”

Asked whether a progressive Democrat can win a statewide race in Arizona, he said, “certainly,” calling Sinema a good example of a statewide leader and a responsive politician who’s progressive on some issues.

If he enters the race, Gallego would have “a built-in base in the primary that Mark Kelly doesn’t necessarily have,” said Chad Campbell, who was the Democratic leader in the Arizona House of Representatives when Gallego was the assistant leader.

“Kelly’s pretty new, he seems to be striking a more kind of centrist tone,” Campbell said. Gallego has experience getting elected, which Kelly doesn’t have. Ultimately, Campbell said, “I think the election will come down to really just a matter of style.”

Liberal advocacy groups, meanwhile, are waging a campaign to nudge Gallego into the race.

The groups Latino Victory Fund and Democracy for America have launched a website called “Run Ruben Run,” aimed at spurring his “potential historic bid to become Arizona’s first Latino U.S. Senator.”

Cristóbal J. Alex, President of Latino Victory Fund, and Yvette Simpson, CEO of Democracy for America, said earlier this month in a statement: “Arizonans deserve a leader who reflects the state’s rich diversity — someone who understands what it’s like to grow up poor, to work hard to achieve his potential and to selflessly devote his life to his country and community.”

The groups added that the “field is primed for a millennial Latino like Ruben Gallego, who stands in stark contrast to Senator Martha McSally, who will enter the race forced to answer to Arizona voters for having fully embraced President Trump’s harmful policies and anti-immigrant and divisive rhetoric.”

Rep. Raul Grijalva, (D-Ariz.) the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, has also called for Gallego to enter the race.  

“We need change in Arizona and our nation, and Ruben represents that change,” Grijalva said in a statement released by the Latino Victory Fund and Democracy for America.

“From fighting to reduce student loan debt for veterans, to pushing for an end to gun violence and working to pass comprehensive immigration reform, Ruben Gallego is committed to the fight, and that’s why I want Ruben to run for the United States Senate.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.