Ruben Gallego made his formal election announcement at a rally in Phoenix’s Grant Park on Jan. 23, unveiling his plan to become Arizona’s first Latino senator to a sun-drenched crowd. After crossing the street to huddle with friends at an American Legion post, the 43-year-old Iraq War veteran set off on a statewide tour, covering 750 miles in 48 hours while making six stops and speaking to more than 1,500 Arizonans.
Then it was on to interviews with HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" and with Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC, followed by Congressional hearings sandwiched in between wall-to-wall campaigning activities, which were a prelude to a blur of TV interviews, town hall meetings, and meet-and-greets to follow.
There’s no letting up for Gallegos. It’s not how he works.
While Republican Kari Lake and incumbent Independent Senator Krysten Sinema continue to mull the possibility of entering the race five months after his announcement, Gallego remains in constant motion, riding the momentum of a first-rate roll-out that produced impressive poll results, strong fundraising hauls, and major media bookings while galvanizing support from Democrats and left-leaning Independents across the state.
You can witness the excitement building around the campaign firsthand when Gallego addresses 200-some Democrats at a June 26 Town Hall Meeting from 6-7:30 pm at Rio Vista Recreation Center, 8866 W. Thunderbird Rd, Peoria.
“I love nothing more than hosting town halls, talking with Arizonans about the issues that matter most to them, and snapping a pic at the end,” Gallego said in a tweet.
Added Teri Rami, 1st Vice-Chair of LD 27:
“He’s gonna garner a lot of enthusiasm from us because he’s going to be that good. His story is inspiring. His service record too. His bio is impressive. To me, he’s the real deal. “So we’re working really hard at promoting this: phone banking, canvassing, social media, sending out postcards. Getting out the vote is part of this. The main thing is to start building enthusiasm for the work ahead. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”
It’s easy to see why Democrats in Arizona are rallying around Gallego. A rising star within the party, he’s young and charismatic, with a captivating life story. He’s also the anti-Sinema—there’s no danger of him losing touch with everyday Arizonans; or subordinating their interests to private equity millionaires.
“The problem isn’t that Senator Sinema abandoned the Democratic Party — it’s that she’s abandoned Arizona, “ Gallegos has said. “She’s repeatedly broken her promises and fought for the interests of big pharma and Wall Street at our expense. I’m running for the U.S. Senate because the rich and the powerful don’t need any more advocates in Washington — but families who can’t afford groceries do.”
Nonetheless, Gallego's chances are hard to predict without knowing who the Republican nominee will be or whether Sinema will run. At this point, he is the only Arizonan running for the Senate seat next year and is counting on a fast start and wall-to-wall campaigning to discourage Sinema from running as an independent.
It’s no secret that Galkego is drilling down on the Latino vote. Arizona is home to about 1.2 million eligible Latino voters, about one-fourth of the state’s electorate. A third of Maricopa County’s 4.5 million residents and a fifth of its voters are Latino. Yet hundreds of thousands of Arizona Latinos are either not registered to vote or are on the rolls but don’t vote, according to voter records and census data. Getting them to the polls is high on Gallego’s priority list.
Moreover, about 40 percent of Latinos in Arizona are registered independents. Gallegos feels his experience as a Marine combat veteran on the House Armed Services Committee will appeal to these voters. “When Washington talks about independents, they don’t tend to think of Latinos, but there’s actually a large Latino independent streak, people who feel like the Democratic Party hasn’t spoken to them in a long time,” said Gallego. “We can get those voters.”
In addition to Hispanic voters, Gallego’s strategy is to appeal to active-duty troops and veterans, excite young voters, and win support from blue-collar workers of all races. His life story is a major asset. Born in Chicago to a Colombian mother and a Mexican father, he divided his early years between Mexico and the U.S. After his father faded from the scene, his mother moved her three children back to a cramped Chicago apartment. Gallego slept on the living room floor for years. To help out financially, he worked as a line cook, janitor, cashier, and on construction crews, then headed to Harvard in 1998.
"Lying on the floor of our apartment one night, hungry and tired because I worked after school earning money to help my mother pay for things, I told myself this was not who I was. I was not going to be poor trash for the rest of my life. I was going to college, no matter what it took. What college? The best: Harvard,” Gallego wrote in the book, “They Called Us Lucky.”
While at Harvard, Gallego enlisted in the Marines, putting his studies on hold. His unit was deployed to Iraq in 2005; in August they suffered the worst single day of Marine casualties in two decades: 14 Marines died in a bungled operation, including 10 from his unit. When the time came to return to the States, the battalion had a record: the most losses of any American unit fighting in the Iraq War, 46 Marines and two Navy corpsmen, including 23 from his unit.
If Gallego had been driven before he deployed to Iraq, he was consumed with ambition afterward, working first as a political operative before winning a seat in the Arizona State House despite battling PTSD.
In 2015 he headed to Washington to represent part of Phoenix and the West Valley in the United States House of Representatives, where he became a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and the Natural Resources Committee, carved out a liberal voting record, and became a fixture on cable news with scathing attacks on former President Trump and MAGA Republicans.
The past and present for Gallego merged when supporters of Donald Trump tried to take over the House floor on January 6 in an attempt to overturn the presidential election. Gallego’s Marine instincts clicked in during the chaos.
“Well, what triggered me to snap back in was when I saw the really scared, scared faces of the young staffers. They reminded me a lot of the young Marines I served with in combat, and how necessary it was to show leadership and give people direction,” Gallego said in an interview with The Independent. At the same time, he was plotting how to defend the Capitol.
“I mean, I was thinking about trying to stab a person and take away their weapon and keep fighting, and trying to figure out who are the younger members that can create a defensive position,” he said. “And all these things that you never think you ever have to do on the floor of the House of Representatives.” Gallego’s courageous response earned the respect of his caucus - and many voters, who rallied around his confrontational style.
When Gallego was in Iraq, he was known for his skill at solving day-to-day problems. Lance Cpl. Jonathan Grant - his best friend, was a habitual snorer, keeping the barracks awake for much of the night. Grant had told his fellow soldiers that he didn’t mind if they woke him up when it got too loud, but getting out of bed to shake him awake seemed like a chore. “So,” said John Bailon, a friend of Gallego’s and member of his unit, told the Washington Post, “Ruben tied a rope around Grant’s foot, and every time he started snoring, he’d give it a yank. It pretty much worked!”
Grant had helped Galkego lose weight and pass a fitness test when they were both stateside. Before shipping out, Gallego had held Grant’s baby and promised his wife to look out for him in Iraq. On May 11, 2005, Grant’s amphibious assault vehicle struck an improvised explosive device. Gallego learned of Grant’s death while sheltering in a nearby structure. It was a devastating moment for Gallego, one that he carries with him today on the campaign trail.
“I’m running for the U.S. Senate because the rich and the powerful don't need any more advocates in Washington – but families who can’t afford groceries do. As a Marine, I never back down from a fight, and in the Senate, I’ll fight to make sure every Arizonan has the same chance that I had at the American Dream.”
Clay Latimer, LD25 Volunteer