Draft Ruben Gallego Effort Launches as Progressives Seek to Oust Kyrsten Sinema

New progressive-backed efforts to primary Senator Kyrsten Sinema are underway from Washington to Arizona, with one seeking to draft Representative Ruben Gallego to run against her when her term is up in 2024.

Nuestro PAC, started by a veteran of Senator Bernie Sanders campaign in 2020, told Newsweek that it's "Run Ruben Run" effort already has $1 million in commitments, and was born out of months of frustration with Sinema among Democrats and Latinos in Arizona.

Chuck Rocha, the group's founder, outlined three keys in wanting to take on Sinema. Latinos delivered the state for Joe Biden and have transformed Arizona, booting former sheriff Joe Arpaio and helping to elect Sinema and Senator Mark Kelly, along with Biden, he said.

"The more they engage the more they get frustrated with a senator who's standing in the way of progress for Latino families in Arizona," Rocha said.

He also said Arizona needs a Latino U.S. senator, invoking the long road California took to finally having one of their own with the appointment of Alex Padilla.

Rocha said the other reasons are Sinema's perceived weakness and Gallego's elevated stature this year.

"Sinema is not going to be able to win her re-elect with her voting record as it is, so we need someone who can attract votes from all around the state, and that's a Latino combat veteran who showed his valor during the January 6 insurrection," he said.

Gallego did not respond to a text message asking for comment on the effort to draft him to run against Sinema, but a friend of Gallego told Newsweek he has "serious interest" in doing so.

And Nuestro PAC is not alone in nascent efforts to prepare the groundwork to primary Sinema.

Newsweek has learned that Way To Win, a progressive donor network that invested millions in Arizona grassroots groups to provide the turnout and new voters it says Sinema needed to win in 2018, has ramped up efforts to make her a one-term senator as well with the launch of Primary Sinema PAC.

"Everyone who worked to get her elected is feeling really betrayed and frustrated, and I think they've had enough of this obstructionism," Leah Hunt Hendrix, a co-founder and the vice president of Way To Win, told Newsweek, citing Sinema's refusal to blow up the filibuster and undermining of Biden's Build Back Better plan.

The donor network, whose PAC is beginning with an initial $400,000 investment, plans to organize events in the coming weeks with grassroots partners, like the well-respected LUCHA Arizona, to amplify the ways in which Sinema is "failing her constituents and siding with corporations." LUCHA Arizona said it would look forward to vetting Gallego in its endorsement process, but is on board with a challenge to Sinema.

"We would definitely be interested in seeing if this is real with Ruben, and would be interested in having convos with him," co-executive director Alejandra Gomez told Newsweek. "We would definitely welcome another candidate primarying her."

Sinema has disappointed progressives since the beginning of Biden's term, offering up a thumbs-down vote along with a curtsy that went viral on YouTube on a federal minimum wage increase to $15, saying she will not support a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, and refusing to support drug pricing reforms.

The anger reached a flash point in recent days with the Arizona Democratic Party passing a resolution on Saturday blasting Sinema for opposing eliminating the filibuster and refusing to support the big ticket reconciliation bill in a 415 to 99 vote.

The party warned that a "no confidence" vote against her is on the table if she continues to refuse to support the $3.5 trillion bill, and the resolution allows for a possible censure, which could include "the clear understanding she could potentially lose support of the ADP in 2024."

Despite growing opposition, Tuesday spotlighted Sinema's outsized influence on Biden's agenda, and underscored why her opponents take issue with her approach.

On the same day Biden invited her to the White House to discuss the reconciliation bill that cannot pass without her support, Sinema was scheduled to hold a fundraiser with five business groups who largely oppose the bill.

The checks made out to Sinema for Arizona would be for between $1,000 to $5,800, CNBC reported.

Democrats and activists in Arizona say Gallego would be formidable should he choose to take on Sinema, and one of his openings would be her low approval rating with Democrats.

A HighGround survey last month found that Sinema's approval rating among Democrats is 30%, while her approval among Republicans is a shocking 50.5%. A September Redfield & Wilton Strategies poll found that "a slightly greater proportion of 2020 Biden voters disapprove (31%) than approve (29%) of her performance as Senator," while "a considerable 32% of 2020 Trump voters approve of the Senator's performance, compared to 30% who disapprove."

Those numbers could help Sinema remain formidable in a general election race, but leave her vulnerable in a Democratic primary.

Chuck Coughlin, who served as a campaign manager and advisor for former Republican Governor Jan Brewer and is the president of HighGround, said his poll represented a new dynamic in Arizona.

"I've never seen anything like that," he said. "McCain flirted with that, but Democrats would never adopt him."

Still, Arizona is not a progressive state, Coughlin argued, and he said an intra-party battle between Democrats could end with Republicans gaining a seat.

"My impression of Ruben early on, that's a big fight, that's an enormous fight he'll have to adopt, and I think he's the only one that could do it," Coughlin said. "But it's an enormous digestion of work and money, potentially that would set you up for a loss to a Republican."

The Gallego ally told Newsweek that 2024 is "many political lifetimes from now," but sketched how Gallego could get to yes on running against Sinema.

The source, along with Coughlin, said it is common knowledge that there is no love lost between the two Arizona Democrats, but Gallego's friend said the congressman would be moved toward running depending on the outcomes of Democratic proposals on infrastructure, the filibuster, and immigration, and whether "she does the right thing or not" and sticks with the party.

"He's interested," the source said. "I think he recognizes what most people recognize in Arizona, that she has low approval with Democrats and she is at risk for a significant primary challenge."

The Gallego ally and others noted that Sinema is a good fundraiser who seems to enjoy it and acknowledge that it would be an expensive race for him to win, which is why efforts like "Run Ruben Run" would be so important.

But if Sinema continues to run afoul of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, it may open up the opportunity for Gallego to run and raise the considerable amount of money he needs.

"If immigration reform doesn't get done and she waters down reconciliation," Gallego's friend said, "that's a world where there is continued progressive anger at her and someone like Ruben can raise a ton of money."

Sinema's office did not respond to a Newsweek request for comment on efforts to primary her.

But a source that worked with Sinema in the past and views her fondly said that the "Run Ruben Run" effort is good for Gallego and "good for progressives too, because Sinema will feel she has to deliver to guard her left flank."

But should Gallego run, the source said, something will have to give.

"The progressive critique of her is that she's all hat and no cattle," they added. "If Ruben put in a challenge one of them would be proven wrong."

ruben gallego kyrsten sinema
""The more they engage the more they get frustrated with a senator who's standing in the way of progress for Latino families in Arizona," Chuck Rocha of Nuestro PAC said of Kyrsten Sinema. A new effort seeks to draft Ruben Gallego to run against the first-term senator, citing her votes and holding up of the progressive-backed agenda. Left: Zach Gibson/Getty Images, Right: Alex Wong/Getty Images