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Ruben Gallego announces run for Ariz. Senate seat held by Kyrsten Sinema

Rep. Ruben Gallego announced he will run for the U.S. Senate in Arizona on Monday, setting up a potential three-way race in the battleground state in 2024 that poses a threat to independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s hold on the seat.

Gallego, a Marine veteran who has served in the House since 2015, announced his candidacy in a video in English and Spanish that stressed his military service and experience growing up as a first-generation American.

“The rich and the powerful, they don’t need more advocates,” Gallego said in the video, which shows him addressing veterans at Guadalupe American Legion Post 124. “It’s the people that are still trying to decide between groceries and utilities that need a fighter for them.”

Gallego also took direct aim at Sinema in a statement, saying she “abandoned Arizona” and has “repeatedly broken her promises, and fought for the interests of big pharma and Wall Street at our expense.”

The announcement comes just a month after Sinema surprised Democrats in Washington by leaving the party and registering as an independent, calling the change a “reflection of who I’ve always been.” Sinema, a first-term moderate who has been at the middle of several bipartisan Senate deals in the past year, has not yet announced whether she will seek reelection. Her office declined to comment on Gallego’s announcement.

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!

— Ruben Gallego (@RubenGallego) January 23, 2023

Gallego, who has more than $1 million cash on hand, is the first Democrat to announce his run in Arizona, and becomes the early presumptive Democratic nominee, after another possible candidate, Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.), announced last week he would not seek the office. Gallego’s campaign plans to focus heavily on mobilizing the state’s Latino and youth vote. The congressman would be the state’s first Latino senator if elected.

Gallego’s bid sets up a dilemma for national Democrats, who must choose whether to pour their considerable resources into backing a Democratic nominee for the seat or to support an independent incumbent who largely votes Democratic but is unpopular with many base voters back home. In past races, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has backed independents who caucus with Democrats. The 2024 map to keeping the Senate majority is brutal for Democrats, who are defending 23 seats, and a three-way race in the must-win state would add to their headaches.

“The Democrat civil war is on in Arizona,” Philip Letsou, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a statement. “[Senate Majority Leader] Chuck Schumer has a choice: stand with open borders radical Ruben Gallego or back his incumbent, Senator Kyrsten Sinema.”

Nora Keefe, a spokeswoman for the DSCC, declined to comment about who the organization would be backing. “Republicans have suffered resounding Senate defeats in Arizona the last three election cycles in a row, and we are confident we will stop Republicans in their effort to take this Senate seat,” she said in a statement.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate Majority Whip, called it “too soon” to decide whether he would back Gallego or stick with Sinema, should she run again, on Monday.

Sinema, who has an $8 million war chest, has drawn the ire of Democrats after several high-profile breaks with the party, including her opposition to getting rid of the filibuster to push through more legislation with 50 votes in the Senate. But she also played a key role in negotiating bipartisan legislation that became law over the past two years, including a gun-control bill, a measure that protects same-sex married couples and an infrastructure investment measure.

Gallego did not hide his intention to run for Senate, becoming a vocal critic of Sinema and accusing her of wanting Democrats to lose the midterms.

“I have been traveling the state and country. Donating, raising funds and encouraging people to come out and vote and I have seen you nowhere @SenatorSinema,” he wrote on Twitter last fall, shortly after she appeared at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) looking on.

Strategists familiar with Gallego’s Senate campaign, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy, say it will lean on his upbringing in poverty and his desire to help those in similar situations as a contrast to Sinema’s record in the Senate, where, they point out, her opposition helped scale down a $3.5 trillion social safety-net bill. In the announcement video, Gallego also discusses struggling with PTSD after serving in the Marines and the struggles his single mother endured raising her children on a secretary’s salary.

Sinema declined to comment on Gallego’s bid when asked about it on a local radio show last Friday, saying that Arizonans want a “break” from politics after the midterm cycle and that she is concentrating on immigration and other issues. “I’m not really thinking or talking about the election right now, although others are. I’m staying focused on the work,” she said.

Republicans are also eagerly eyeing a potential three-way race, a scenario that some conservative strategists think would make the race far easier for a Republican to win. Shortly after Gallego’s announcement, GOP groups already began attacking him as too liberal for the state. Blake Masters, Kari Lake and Karrin Taylor Robson — who all unsuccessfully aspired to statewide offices in 2022 — are considering runs, The Washington Post has previously reported.

Democrats saw Sinema’s move to become an independent as politically strategic after some polling suggested she could struggle to defeat Gallego in a Democratic primary. As an independent, her path to reelection would be a tricky one and would rely on cobbling together a coalition of moderate Republicans, independents and Democrats.

Gallego’s team decided to jump into the race early to make sure he can increase his name identification in Arizona, especially among the growing Hispanic community, according to a person familiar with his strategy. Gallego, who oversaw the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s campaign fundraising arm last cycle, has been critical of Democrats’ late outreach to the community and their adopting language that does not resonate with a majority of Hispanic voters, like the term “Latinx.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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