Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) has decided against a Senate bid, a huge relief for Democrats who worried a competitive Senate primary in the state could damage their chances at defeating Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) in 2020.
“Honestly, I had polling came back and it basically said… to win, you’d have to run just a very bitter, bitter primary. And I just don’t want to run a very bitter primary,” he told TPM Monday evening. “I just don’t like attacking fellow Democrats.”
That decision leaves astronaut Mark Kelly (D) with a clear primary field — at least for now — and removes his toughest potential primary foe. It also marks a reversal for Gallego, who for months had been saying he wasn’t worried a competitive primary could hurt Democrats’ chances as he geared up for a potential run.
Gallego and Kelly have been friendly for years — Gallego knows him through his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) — and Gallego said running a sharp-edged primary against him weighed even more than if it were another Democrat.
“When someone tells you the only way you can win is you’ve got to go negative on somebody, somebody you know, somebody you respect, somebody who’s a friend, at the end of the day it’s not worth it,” he said. ” I jumped in too late, I had to wait until a certain time to run [until after his ex-wife won her Phoenix mayoral campaign two weeks ago], and it’s just too late. It happens.”
His decision is likely a win for Democrats, who view McSally as their best 2020 target besides Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO).
McSally lost a close Senate race in 2018 in the state to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), before getting appointed to the state’s other seat. She was hurt in that race by having to fight through a tough primary that pushed her to the right in the purple-trending state. Republicans had hoped this time around she would have a clear primary and Democrats would be the ones warring it out, but it appears for now that they’ve avoided that fate.
Gallego had been all but running already, and explained his change of heart on a campaign as a shift after he saw numbers showing he was wrong in his belief that a primary wouldn’t hurt Democrats’ chances.
“I didn’t think that was the case but when I did polling and it showed that’s actually the case, if you have a bitter primary it could actually cause a lot of problems. And I’m just not going to engage in that,” he said. “Republicans want a bitter primary between Democrats so they can hold this seat.”
Gallego praised Kelly and said he didn’t expect there would be a tough primary, though he’d heard of another candidate looking to run. And he said most of the pressure for him not to run came from Arizona Democrats — “Justifiably so, just from Democrats wanting to avoid a bitter primary — and then also from my mom.”
Gallego’s decision was first reported by the Arizona Republic.
This story was last updated at 9:15 p.m.