After reports came out last Friday teasing Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ)'s Senate run, the congressman indeed made his intentions official on Monday morning with a video announcement that had been filmed in Arizona's 3rd Congressional District, which he represents. Gallego had been hinting at a Senate run for months before, even before his potential opponent, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema changed her party affiliation from Democrat to Independent.
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.— Ruben Gallego (@RubenGallego) January 23, 2023
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
That there will potentially be a three way race between Sinema, Gallego--assuming he wins the nomination, and a Republican nominee could split the vote and throw the race to the Republican candidate. That is why Arizona's race was featured last week in The Hill's write-up of eight Senate races that could flip. It's worth reminding that while Senate Democrats did slightly grow their majority after the 2022 midterms, the 2024 map is looking particularly difficult for them. These could all be good signs for a Republican win.
Even better for Republicans is that Democrats may find themselves in disarray when it comes to Gallego's announcement. Despite having switched her affiliation, Sinema still caucuses with the Democrats (as do the other Independents, Sens. Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont) and has kept her committee assignments.
This Arizona race has been the subject of chatter and speculation for months, even before Gallego's run was official or even teased. "Dems agonize over Sinema 2024," read Burgess Everett and Marianne Levine's headline for POLITICO from December 12.
Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) chaired the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) for 2022 and it was recently confirmed earlier this month that he'll do so again. This is despite how he had told NBC News less than a month prior that he would not do so for the following cycle.
That POLITICO article, released shortly before Peters confirmed he was staying on as chairman, began by pointing out that "Democrats’ next Senate campaign chief is going to inherit a huge Kyrsten Sinema dilemma."
As Everett and Levine also wrote:
Fresh off his big win in Georgia, outgoing Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair Gary Peters (D-Mich.) conspicuously demurred when asked about Sinema: “At this moment, I’m really happy to say that’s the job of the next DSCC chair.” Peters added that he won’t return to the DSCC for a second term, despite entreaties from his colleagues.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, along with Peters’ successor as campaign chief, already has to convince Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) to run again in 2024. Arizona promises to present a hurdle of its own no matter what the candidate lineup looks like, challenging Democrats to keep the peace with a liberal base that opposes Sinema while also recognizing that a divided party may struggle to win a general election in the state.
“They’ll have to make a call. It’ll be a tough decision, probably … the standard is, the DSCC protects the incumbents. I don’t think that’s going to change. But it’s not my call,” Tester, a former campaign chair himself, said on Monday. He added that “of course” he considers Sinema a party incumbent: Maine Independent Sen. “Angus [King] is. She caucuses with us. She’s an incumbent.”
Sinema doesn’t quite align with King in one respect: She won’t attend caucus meetings. Yet, by accepting her committee assignments from Democrats, the party believes she will functionally convey a 51-seat majority with her vote for the next two years.
The chairman spoke with CNN's Manu Raju about the race on Monday, praising Sinema, but making clear that he isn't giving any kind of a commitment just yet.
“Sen. Sinema is a friend of mine and I don't know what her intentions are, we'll have to wait and see what happens. We have to wait and see how things develop,” Peters said— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 24, 2023
As Peters pointed out, Sinema has not yet announced her own intentions to run for what would be her second term. In addition to that, Peters pointed to narratives such as how "It's still really early" and how "We have to wait and see how things develop," as his way of demurring. As of Tuesday, the Arizona primary dates, according to Ballotpedia, are still pending.
Further, as is mentioned above in the POLITICO piece when it comes to quoting vulnerable Democratic incumbent Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), "the standard is, the DSCC protects the incumbents." The question appears to be, then, as to if Sinema is considered an incumbent by Peters as much as she is by Tester.
Tester himself may or may not run for reelection. He spoke to Raju about how he will decide in the first quarter of this year.
Jon Tester told me that he would make a decision on whether to run for another term in the first quarter of this year. His decision in #mtsen will have major implications in the battle for the Senate in 2024— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 24, 2023
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) weighed in on Tuesday afternoon as well. Like Peters, he did not commit to deciding whom to support, though he comes at it from a different position as the chairman.
Schumer on if Dems will back Sinema or Gallego in AZ Senate race: Sen Sinema is an excellent Congress member and a Senate member. And she has done a lot of good things here. But it's much too early to make a decision.— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) January 24, 2023
According to a tweet from Fox News' Chad Pergram, Schumer praised Sinema, but, like Peters, claimed it is too early.
The Punchbowl Newsletter for Tuesday morning also highlighted how "Senate Dems dodge on Arizona." Peters is further quoted in mentioning "We haven’t been thinking about that. That’s down the road." Other Democrats doing that "dodge" are also mentioned:
Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), one of the DSCC’s vice chairs for the cycle, laughed when we posed the question to her, but then added: “We don’t even know what Sen. Sinema’s plans are. She’s my colleague.”
“It’s way too soon to get into that,” said the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, Dick Durbin of Illinois. “We don’t even know who’s going to file for any office in any state at this point.”
Sinema’s fellow Arizonan, Sen. Mark Kelly (D), said he wanted to “put the politics aside” and not “get ahead of anybody.”
More from Kelly: “I’ve worked very closely with Sen. Sinema for a long period of time. She’s a very effective member. But I’m not going to get ahead of her on 2024, or anybody else.”
However, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and John Hickenlooper (D-CO) are also mentioned, and it's because they support Sinema:
The Democratic hesitancy isn’t stopping Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), however, who praised Sinema and signaled he’d back her over a Democratic nominee.
“I don’t always agree with her, but I think having a voice like that — she says what she thinks. And I think she adds value to the caucus,” Hickenlooper told us. “She’s caucusing with Democrats. The problem is she’s too moderate as a Democrat — well, that’s half the time what they say about me!”
Hickenlooper noted that Sens. Angus King (Maine) and Bernie Sanders (Vt.) also caucus with Democrats even though they’re technically Independents. “I can’t imagine not supporting her,” the Colorado Democrat declared.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he’s “totally supportive” of Sinema and said his party’s leaders “should support someone who brings basically some peace, if you will, or some rational thinking on some of this stuff without being pushed far left and far right.”
It's no secret that Sinema has had her issues with Democrats, which are referenced in the POLITICO article and have been covered at length before and will likely be continuously covered afterwards. While Sinema supports pro-abortion legislation and so-called "voting rights" legislation, but not enough to nuke the filibuster to get such bills passed.
After voting against changing the filibuster last January--which Manchin also voted against--Sinema faced a loss of support and a loss of donors from groups that support Democratic candidates, such as EMILY's List, which endorses pro-abortion Democratic women. She had also been censured by the Arizona Democratic Party's executive board.
Yet Sinema has retained her support for the filibuster. Late last year, Sinema also made news for speaking at the Louisville McConnell Center in September where she praised bipartisanship and the filibuster.
Very much treating her as a challenger, despite how Sinema has not answered questions about reelection, as also mentioned in the Punchbowl Newsletter, Gallego has continued to call out Sinema from Twitter on Tuesday as well.
Arizona: You’ve been neglected by Washington for far too long. I’m sorry that your Senator, Kyrsten Sinema, has let you down.— Ruben Gallego (@RubenGallego) January 24, 2023
But I’m going to change that. We’re going all across the state – to rural counties, to tribal nations – to talk to you and your family. JOIN US:
Still not a town hall open to the public. https://t.co/1qrQzToBSI— Ruben Gallego (@RubenGallego) January 24, 2023