Ever since leaving the Democratic Party last month, Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema — who still caucuses with the Democratic Party — has allowed the possibility of a messy, three-way race for her Senate seat in 2024.
Now, one liberal is taking up the challenge. Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego, a far-left firebrand, announced Monday that he’ll run for the Senate seat currently held by the pseudo-independent Sinema.
Sinema, 46, has yet to announce any plans for re-election. Gallego has become the first candidate to jump into the race. The ball is in Sinema’s court.
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The two politicians once served alongside each other in the Arizona House of Representatives, and have long been rivals. Gallego, 43, has said he and Sinema both come from “modest to poor means” but have taken different paths in Congress.
“I’m better for this job than Kyrsten Sinema because I haven’t forgotten where I came from,” Gallego, who announced his campaign in an online video told The Associated Press.
“I think she clearly has forgotten where she came from. Instead of meeting with the people that need help, she meets with the people that are already powerful.”
Although no Republican has entered the race, potential contenders include former gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, former U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters, and Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb. Former Gov. Doug Ducey is also a possible contender from the GOP, as is Karrin Taylor Robson, a housing developer who lost to Lake in last year’s primary.
A three-way race, coupled with the risk that Sinema and the eventual Democratic nominee will split the vote, would complicate the party’s already uphill battle to maintain control of the Senate in 2024. Democrats will be forced to defend 23 seats, including seats in competitive jurisdictions like Ohio, Nevada, and West Virginia.
By comparison, Republicans will be defending only 10 seats in 2024.
With tough and expensive races on the horizon, it remains unclear just how firmly the Democratic Party and its major donors will line up against Sinema.
The senator has angered some Democrats by breaking from the party line.
During last year’s negotiations over the “Inflation Reduction Act,” Sinema thwarted the Democrats’ longtime goal of closing the “carried interest” loophole. A technicality allows private equity executives to pay a capital gains tax on their paychecks, rather than the regular income tax.
Her support for maintaining the filibuster, a Senate rule requiring 60 of 100 votes to pass most legislation, has made her a pariah among Democrats, who need Republican support to pass most bills despite controlling a majority of seats. The tension reached a head in 2021, when Democrats tried and failed to pass voting legislation.
However, she is a Democrat in all but name. Sinema has voted in line with Biden 100 percent of the time, according to a review by FiveThirtyEight. She has yet to vote against any of Biden’s 194 judicial appointments.
Plus, she’s been at the center of many of the biggest congressional deals of Biden’s presidency, from a big, bipartisan infrastructure package to a bill legally protect same-sex marriages.
Sinema doubled down on her positions last week, telling global elites in Davos, Switzerland, that democracy didn’t collapse in the 2022 election despite her support for the filibuster.
Gallego began his career in public service by joining the military during the Iraq War. After returning, he was elected in 2010 to the state Legislature, and he overlapped with Sinema for one of his two terms.
In 2014, he won a bitter congressional primary, toppling a dynastic figure in the region. He’s giving up a safe Democratic seat in Congress, a district that includes the neighborhoods of south and west Phoenix.
Despite growing up in Chicago, Gallego moved to Arizona after college to join his girlfriend. That girlfriend — now his ex-wife — is currently the mayor of Phoenix.
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Gallego went viral last year for his Twitter fight with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.
“F**k you @tedcruz you care about a fetus but you will let our children get slaughtered. Just get your a** to Cancun. You are useless,” Gallego tweeted last year, following the massacre in Uvalde. “Just to be clear f**k you @tedcruz you f**king baby killer.”
One Twitter user replied, “Please primary Sinema so we can finally achieve some gun laws in the Senate !!!”
— Ruben Gallego (@RubenGallego) May 24, 2022
Just to be clear fuck you @tedcruz you fucking baby killer.
— Ruben Gallego (@RubenGallego) May 24, 2022
Growing up poor, all I had was the American dream. It kept me going: as a kid sleeping on the floor, a student scrubbing toilets, a Marine losing brothers in Iraq.
Today, too many Arizonans see their dream slipping away. I’m running for the U.S. Senate to win it back for you! pic.twitter.com/ofUvUYRcTP
— Ruben Gallego (@RubenGallego) January 23, 2023
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article.