Race to replace Gallego in Democrat-heavy 3rd District draws crowded field

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, now in his fifth term representing the Phoenix area in Congress, said he will run for Senate in 2024, opening a seat in an overwhelmingly Democratic district. Democratic hopefuls have lined up, but with control of the House at stake next year, GOP and independent hopefuls are coming out, too. (File photo by Mary Grace Grabill/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Look at campaign websites for the Democrats running to fill the seat being vacated by Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, and the issues tend toward the progressive: climate change, abortion rights, affordable housing, migrant rights.

It’s red meat for a blue district, which comes as no surprise to analysts like Paul Bentz.

“More than half of all voters in that district are Democratic … only about 14% of registered voters in that district are actually registered Republicans,” said Bentz, senior vice president of research and strategy at HighGround Inc.

The overwhelming Democratic majority in the 3rd Congressional District means the race “is in the primary,” Bentz said. “Whoever emerges from that is pretty much guaranteed that they will win the general election.”

That has not stopped Republicans from lining up: Seven GOP hopefuls have filed statements of interest with the Arizona Secretary of State’s office, including 2022 nominee Jeff Zink, who was beaten handily by Gallego that year.

One independent and at least eight Democrats have also expressed interest in the primary or general elections in the district, although two of the Democrats – Phoenix City Councilmember Laura Pastor and Ylenia Aguilar – have since pulled out of the race, citing health concerns.

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The crush of candidates reflects the allure of an open congressional seat: Close to 20 candidates have filed statements of interest for the only other open House race in the state next year, the 8th District seat being vacated by Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria. Despite being almost as red as Gallego’s district is blue, only half of the 8th District hopefuls are Republicans.

Kyle Kondik, elections analyst at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said that “Gallego’s seat is bluer than Lesko’s seat is red.” But he said that in both of the open-seat races, “all of the action is in the primary.”

That was echoed by Arizona-based political consultant Jason Rose.

Gallego’s seat and Lesko’s seat are just going to be interesting races because you have some interesting and big personalities in them,” Rose said. “But they’re not nationally significant because they’re preordained.”

The personalities most often cited in the 3rd District are both Democrats, Phoenix Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari and former Arizona Democratic Party Chair Raquel Terán, who also served in the Arizona House and Senate.

“So you’ve got Raquel Terán on one side, a longtime Democratic Party chair who’s got the endorsement of several of the unions, including the Arizona Education Association, as well as Sen. Mark Kelly,” Bentz said. “On the other hand, you have Yassamin Ansari who … has been very active in Phoenix’s recent successful bond efforts. She’s also endorsed by the Firefighters of Arizona.”

Ansari is the youngest woman ever elected in Phoenix City Council history and the first Iranian American elected to public office in the state of Arizona. Rose said he thinks she proved herself by winning her city council seat, which he said is “certainly promising for her congressional run.”

“One, she was young, very young, and two, her runoff opponent was Latina and in a district that’s heavily Latina,” Rose said of Ansari’s 2020 election. “She’s already proven almost, you know, for lack of a better term, a focus group, that as the daughter of Iranian immigrants, she could win in a predominantly Latin district.”

Rose said a major factor in congressional races is money, and Terán and Ansari are what Bentz considers to be “well-funded candidates.”

Ansari reported raising more than $762,000 and having almost $583,000 in cash on hand in her Sept. 30 campaign finance report to the Federal Election Commission. Terán told the FEC she had raised almost $437,000 and had just under $296,000 cash on hand in the same period.

All the other Democratic candidates combined reported raising just over $200,000 in the same period, according to FEC data. Zink, the only Republican to file with the FEC, reported raising $54,000 by Sept. 30, with $9,341 in the bank.

Bentz slightly overstated the Democratic advantage when he said they were more than half the registered voters in the district. The latest numbers from the Arizona Secretary of State’s office showed that, of the more than 300,000 registered voters in the 3rd District in October, 45.5% were Democrats, 13.9% were Republicans and 39.2% were unaffiliated. Libertarians and the No Labels Party voters made up the rest of the district.

But it’s hard to overstate the Democrats’ control of the district that the Cook Political Report rates “solid Democrat.” Gallego, who is vacating the seat to mount a bid for Senate in 2024, beat Zink by a margin of 77% to 23% in 2022.

That could tilt the campaigns more blue, but with control of the House potentially up for grabs next fall, Bentz said Republicans are not likely to give up on the 3rd District without a fight.

“I imagine almost every one of these Republican candidates for Congress will be down at the border touring and talking about immigration,” Bentz said. “On the Democratic side…we’re seeing a lot of discussion about climate change. We’re seeing a lot of discussion about abortion and we’re seeing a lot of discussion about homelessness.”

Renee Romo(she/her/hers)
News Broadcast Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Renee Romo plans to graduate in December 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in political science. Romo is a White House Correspondents’ Association Scholar, who has interned with Arizona Education News Service. Romo also writes for PolitiFact.