Gallego to Sinema: I won't 'back down'

Democrat Ruben Gallego isn’t worried about the ever-expanding primary field vying for the chance to fill retiring Rep. Ed Pastor’s (D-Ariz.) safe district — not even if it ends up including Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

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But the Arizona state House assistant minority leader told The Hill during a trip to Washington, D.C., on Monday that he’d prefer the freshman Democrat to run for reelection to her own seat.

“She’s the only one that can hold that district,” said Gallego. “She’s set a good moderate tone for that district. She really has the voting record to hold that district, and no other Democrat can. It’s going to severely effect the Democratic Party nationally, as well as locally, if we lose that seat.”

But Gallego added: “If she jumps into this race with me, we’re going to have to have a very spirited race. I’m certainly not going to back down.”

The Arizona Republic reported last week after Pastor announced his retirement that Sinema is keeping her options open and could switch from a much tougher race in Arizona’s swing 9th District to the 7th, which is a safe Democratic seat.

Such a decision would, as Gallego noted, make it tougher for the party to hold onto Sinema's seat. President Obama only narrowly carried the district in the past two presidential contests. 

Gallego said he ultimately believes he’s both the best fit for the liberal Phoenix district and has the strongest ability to build the campaign he’ll need to win in the August primary, which has already drawn interest from half a dozen Democrats. The former Marine received the endorsement of the pro-veterans' PAC VoteVets.org shortly after launching his bid, and he said they've made his race a top priority.

“We have lots of Latino veterans that live in the district and need a responsive government,” he said. “I’m one of the few [candidates] that speaks Spanish. And I grew up in a fairly low-income family, and unfortunately, the district has a lot of lower-income families, and I can relate to that.”

He also said his experience working in local politics, including for an effort to recall controversial Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, has given him the skills and connections needed to “put together the functional aspects of the campaign” to “hit the ground running,” noting that he’s already scheduled his first fundraiser, for March 20.

The Chicago native said he was unimpressed by the four inches of snow blanketing Washington, D.C., during his visit, and though it grounded House Speaker John Boehner (R) back in Ohio and postponed House and Senate votes, it hadn’t stalled a packed schedule for Gallego.

He had stops to the National Council of La Raza Gala, a reception for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, a reception for the Committee for Hispanic Caucuses BOLD PAC, among others, planned during his two-day visit and has discussed his bid with members of the congressional delegation. He hinted he might get support from one of them in the coming weeks.

While the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee typically does not weigh in on contested primaries where the seat is safe, Gallego said he had been in touch with DCCC Executive Director Kelly Ward, with whom he worked on former Rep. Harry Mitchell’s (D-Ariz.) campaign.

Gallego said part of his pitch to voters would be based on bringing dignity back to the state.

“I look forward to winning this race and trying to move Arizona out of 'The Daily Show' laugh track every day,” he said.