Can Ruben Gallego Win Over Arizona Swing Voters and Earn a Senate Seat?

As Consultant Ruben Gallego campaigned for Arizona’s important Senate seat final week, he did one thing which may appear uncommon to those that know him as a fierce liberal combatant: He struck a reasonable tone.

Chatting with retirees in Goodyear, a politically divided Phoenix suburb, Mr. Gallego, a Democrat, addressed the surge of migrants on the border, suggesting that the asylum system was “being abused” and calling for extra assist for Border Patrol brokers so they might “really focus on those bad guys.”

It was a shift from the Ruben Gallego of years previous, when he slammed former President Donald J. Trump’s border wall plans as “stupid” and accused him of “scapegoating immigrants.” The brand new message — stemming partially from an intensifying disaster beneath a far completely different president — represented a tacit acknowledgment that profitable over Arizona voters might require a slide towards the center.

Delicately turning to the political heart is a time-honored custom for candidates of each events. However Mr. Gallego, who represents a liberal district in Phoenix and has an extended historical past of figuring out as a progressive, may face a more durable problem than most in redefining himself in a battleground state with a decades-old conservative bent — even after a serious court docket determination on abortion this week put Democrats firmly on offense within the state.

“In this era of hyper-partisanship — and there will be national money flooding into Arizona in this Senate race — people will be flinging stereotypes around like crazy,” stated Janet Napolitano, a Democrat who was elected to 2 phrases because the state’s governor within the 2000s.

Ms. Napolitano, who famous that Mr. Gallego’s standing as a Marine Corps veteran may assist him, stated that to win statewide as a Democrat, he wanted to show that “you’re there to problem-solve, and you’re there to work hard, and you’re there to represent all Arizonans.”

Mr. Gallego does have a number of key benefits in Arizona, although.

A ruling on Tuesday from the State Supreme Court, which stated an 1864 regulation that bans almost all abortions might be reinstated, turbocharged Democrats’ attempts to place abortion on the heart of the November election. That call, mixed with the chance {that a} poll measure defending abortion entry can be on the poll in Arizona, left Democrats hopeful of hovering liberal turnout.

Mr. Gallego can also be poised to run towards a Republican who’s straining even harder to widen her attraction: Kari Lake, the previous tv anchor and Trump ally whose divisiveness and election lies helped result in her slender defeat within the 2022 governor’s race.

And Arizona has shifted blue in recent times, with Joseph R. Biden Jr. flipping the state in 2020 and a number of Democrats profitable statewide elections: Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, and Gov. Katie Hobbs, who beat Ms. Lake.

These candidates, nevertheless, had spent extra time crafting cautiously reasonable, pragmatic pictures, whereas Mr. Gallego has constructed a fame as a blunt-spoken liberal who’s politically in tune with younger progressives and lacerates his opponents with profane social media posts.

Mr. Gallego’s success may hinge on his potential to current a brand new facet of himself to Arizonans. Whereas Ms. Lake is broadly identified, Mr. Gallego is less well-defined within the state, giving him an opportunity to pitch himself as a no-nonsense veteran centered on native priorities like prescription drug costs and well being care whereas highlighting her historical past as an election denier.

Mr. Gallego stated that he was up for the problem of interesting to voters of all political persuasions, and that he was reaching out to Republicans and visiting redder components of Arizona.

“We’ve been going to not the easiest areas of the state when it comes to being a Democrat, but we’ll continue to do it,” he stated in an interview final week. “I don’t see it as a move to the middle. We’re here to talk to voters, and we have to earn their support.”

On the identical time, Ms. Lake and her allies are highlighting a few of Mr. Gallego’s previous votes and positions that they are saying are out of step with Arizonans, like his cosponsoring of a invoice that will have established a “Medicare for all” common well being care program; his enthusiasm for ending the filibuster in the Senate; his suggestion to “take a scalpel” to army spending; and his criticism of Mr. Trump’s border wall proposal.

“Ruben Gallego is a far-left progressive who has accomplished nothing for Arizona over his 10 years in Congress,” Alex Nicoll, a spokesman for Ms. Lake, stated in a press release, declaring that Mr. Gallego has voted with Mr. Biden 100 percent of the time.

Mr. Gallego has tried to parry these criticisms. His marketing campaign famous that he had voted for tens of billions of {dollars} in appropriations payments over time funding nationwide safety initiatives and hiring Border Patrol brokers, and that he supported the bipartisan invoice that will have tightened restrictions on the border however was tanked by Republicans this 12 months.

His spokeswoman, Hannah Goss, stated Mr. Gallego “has always put Arizonans first” and attacked Ms. Lake’s record on abortion, saying she would “do or say anything to gain power for herself.”

Mr. Gallego additionally ended his membership within the Congressional Progressive Caucus final 12 months, a transfer that was first reported by Politico. He stated final week that he left the caucus due to the elevated value of dues, and didn’t instantly reply when requested whether or not he nonetheless thought-about himself a progressive.

“These terms are kind of D.C. terms. I consider myself someone that’s been working very hard for Arizona,” he stated. As for Republicans’ criticisms of his document, he challenged them to “bring it.”

Mr. Gallego, who’s working unopposed for the Democratic nomination, has maintained a slim lead in most polls over Ms. Lake, who made baseless claims about election fraud in 2020 a key a part of her 2022 marketing campaign for governor, then filed lawsuits looking for to overturn her personal defeat after she misplaced. Ms. Lake has a giant lead over her major Republican challenger, Mark Lamb, a right-wing sheriff, forward of the July 30 main election. Whereas she has a core of ardent supporters, she is laboring to earn the backing of extra reasonable Republicans.

Mr. Gallego has a monetary edge, having out-raised Ms. Lake late final 12 months and tallying $7.5 million in campaign contributions within the first three months of this 12 months; she has not but introduced her complete for a similar time interval. He entered the race nicely earlier than her and has maintained a busy marketing campaign schedule, vowing to visit all 22 federally recognized Native American tribes in Arizona earlier than the election.

A kind of visits occurred final week, when Mr. Gallego toured the Yavapai-Apache Nation reservation close to Sedona. Courting the Native American voters who helped flip Arizona blue, he squelched by the mud and cottonwood bushes on the financial institution of the Verde River whereas discussing the significance of tribal water rights with the chairwoman of the nation’s tribal council.

Mr. Gallego, a 44-year-old of Colombian and Mexican descent, has a compelling private story. Rising up poor in Chicago, he labored a wide range of jobs as a teen whereas his single mom supported him and his three sisters on a secretary’s wage.

That helps him perceive, he stated, “what people are feeling right now, the frustration, the hurt, the feeling of betrayal.”

He attended Harvard, enlisted within the Marines and was deployed to Iraq, the place his unit suffered heavy losses. Dozens of Marines had been killed, together with his finest good friend, and Mr. Gallego talks overtly about affected by post-traumatic stress dysfunction after returning dwelling. He served within the Arizona Legislature earlier than being elected to Congress in 2014.

There are additionally features of his life that Republicans view as damaging. He and his first spouse, Kate Gallego, divorced in 2016, weeks earlier than she gave delivery to their youngster. A conservative information outlet is suing to unseal their divorce records and Ms. Lake has accused him of “abandoning his wife & baby.”

Ms. Gallego, now the mayor of Phoenix, has endorsed Mr. Gallego, who has since remarried and has stated his P.T.S.D. contributed to their divorce. The pair are co-parenting their youngster, and Mr. Gallego stated there was “nothing at all” that will come out of the divorce information.

Each Mr. Gallego and Ms. Lake say they’re aggressively courting Arizona’s sizable populations of unbiased voters and moderates, some of whom felt left without a political home when Ms. Sinema introduced final month that she wouldn’t run for re-election. Ms. Sinema’s workplace didn’t reply to a query about whether or not she would endorse Mr. Gallego.

With Ms. Lake persevering with to hammer points the place Republicans have an edge amongst voters, just like the border disaster, Mr. Gallego may have his work minimize out for him amongst independents.

Jon Lindstrom, 77, a Democrat on the Goodyear occasion, stated he was backing Mr. Gallego. However the congressman must work to earn others’ assist, he advised.

“I think when it comes to immigration, he’s going to have a challenge,” Mr. Lindstrom stated.