Gallego kicks off Senate campaign with weekend tour of Arizona

By Chad Snow, Ignacio Ventura
Published: Sunday, January 29, 2023 - 12:25pm
Updated: Monday, January 30, 2023 - 10:27am

Ruben Gallego
Ignacio Ventura/KJZZ
Ruben Gallego speaks at Grant Park in Phoenix on Jan. 28, 2023.

A few days after announcing his run for the Senate, U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego began campaigning over the weekend with stops throughout the state.

The Democratic congressman kicked things off Saturday in Tucson, before stumping in Casa Grande and Phoenix. On Sunday, he then traveled to Flagstaff.

Gallego gave his Phoenix speech at Grant Park, just south of downtown, and acknowledged the significance of the location.

“It is so great to be here in Phoenix right now, to kick off this campaign in the heart of my district, in the heart of Phoenix, in the heart of the Latino community, across the street from my American Legion post — the first post that I checked in to when I first got back from Iraq,” he said. “There are hundreds of men and women in that post that really helped guide me through some very dark days of PTSD.”

Chad Snow/KJZZ
Cathy Collins, an independent from Phoenix, attends the Ruben Gallego campaign event at Grant Park in Phoenix on Jan. 28, 2023.

Hundreds of people showed up at Grant Park to hear the congressman — and they weren’t all fellow Democrats.

Cathy Collins is a registered independent from Phoenix.

“I like that he’s a native Arizonan,” she said. “And I like that he served in the Marine Corps. I think it’s important to have a military background when you’re voting on appropriations for the military. I also think he has a great sense of humor. Some people don’t like his savage Twitter, but I think it’s great. And I think he really cares about people and knows what people are living through.”

Gallego repeatedly emphasized the American dream, recounting his own upbringing and unlikely journey to a Harvard education.

“In many ways, I am the product of that American dream,” he said. “I am the son of an immigrant mom who raised four kids on her own on a secretary’s salary.”

But Gallego said as much as believes in the American dream, not everybody has been given the same opportunities. He referenced Tyre Nichols, the Black man who was fatally beaten by Memphis police earlier this month after a traffic stop.

“Let’s make one more thing clear,” Gallego said. “The American dream has to include people like Tyre Nichols. It has to include Black men being able to live without fear, and being able to live, period.”

Gallego is running for the Senate seat currently held by Kyrsten Sinema, who was elected as a Democrat in 2018. But Sinema quickly established herself as a swing vote in the closely divided Senate, along with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, who were often the lone holdouts blocking legislative priorities of fellow Democrats and the Biden administration.

Sinema began losing support from progressives in Arizona and throughout the country, and speculation grew that she could face a primary challenge from one of Arizona’s Democratic House members. In December, she officially changed her party affiliation to independent, and she has not yet stated whether or not she intends to seek re-election.

Gallego told the Phoenix crowd on Saturday that he shouldn’t even be standing at the podium, and would never have been afforded the opportunity without the support of his family, teachers and the government.

“There’s another reason why I shouldn’t be here,” he said. “I shouldn’t be here because I voted for Kyrsten Sinema. I endorsed Kyrsten Sinema in 2018. I campaigned in the hot heat for her. And I did it because I thought she was for us.”

He said he had believed Sinema would work to expand child tax credits, bring down the cost of prescription drugs, raise the minimum wage and shift tax burdens more toward the wealthy.

“That’s the senator I voted for,” he told the crowd. “That’s the senator you voted for. But that is not the senator we got.”

Collins is among the former Sinema supporters who are now backing Gallego.

“Kyrsten Sinema, I know she votes with Biden most of the time. But she seems to be more in it for the attention, and she doesn’t ever hold rallies or answer questions for anybody, so I’m not for her anymore," Collins said. 

Chad Snow/KJZZ
Jose Madrid (left) and Felipe Barreras, military veterans from Glendale, were among the earliest to arrive for the Ruben Gallego campaign event Jan. 28, 2023, at Grant Park. Madrid is an independent, and Barreras is a Republican, but both support Gallego.

Jose Madrid and Felipe Barreras, who are both military veterans, came from Glendale to hear Gallego’s speech in Phoenix.

Madrid is an independent, and Barreras is a registered Republican. But they both support Gallego, admire his military background, and said character matters far more than a candidate’s party.

“I go for the person,” Barreras said. “I vote for the person that I think will do the better job. It (party affiliation) don’t mean a thing to me.

Chad Snow/KJZZ
Yuriy Melnyk of Phoenix, an American citizen who was born in Ukraine, waves a combination American-Ukrainian flag at the Ruben Gallego campaign event at Grant Park in Phoenix on Jan. 28, 2023.