Arizona 3: Phoenix Democrats Rising

by Erin Covey January 26, 2023 · 2:00 PM EST

Rep. Ruben Gallego’s Senate ambitions have been clear for a while. But now that the Democratic congressman has officially announced his campaign to challenge independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona Democrats hoping to succeed him in Congress have begun laying the groundwork for their own 2024 campaigns.

Arizona’s 3rd District, which encompasses a significant portion of Phoenix’s urban communities, is far and away the bluest congressional district in the state. Joe Biden carried the district by more than 50 points in 2020, so the race to replace Gallego will be decided in the Democratic primary. Arizona’s primaries are typically held in August, giving potential candidates a long runway to prepare their campaigns. 

One of three Democratic-held congressional districts in the state, the 3rd District is likely to draw interest from a wide range of Democrats in Phoenix. The last time this seat was open was 2014, when Democratic Rep. Ed Pastor retired after serving in Congress for nearly 25 years. Gallego, then a state legislator, won the Democratic primary with 49 percent, defeating three other candidates including Mary Rose Wilcox, a Maricopa County supervisor backed by Pastor.

The (Potential) Candidates
In the days since Gallego’s announcement, several Democrats have shown interest in running for the seat. Phoenix City Council Member Laura Pastor — Ed Pastor’s daughter — was the first to comment publicly, tweeting Tuesday morning that she would “look at pursuing the seat.” Pastor had considered running for her father’s seat back in 2014, a year after she was first elected to the city council.

During last year’s redistricting process, Pastor pushed to make the new 3rd District even more Democratic, proposing a map that would move parts of Phoenix from Republican Rep. David Schweikert’s competitive 1st District into the 3rd. Her maneuvers were ultimately unsuccessful, and she faced some backlash from Arizona Democrats because the changes would have made Schweikert more difficult to defeat.

But Pastor’s name carries serious weight, and she would likely be a frontrunner in the race to succeed Gallego. 

State Senate Minority Leader Raquel Terán has also been floated as a potential candidate. Terán, who’s also the outgoing chair of the state Democratic Party, has a long history of involvement in progressive Arizona politics. She organized opposition to Arizona Senate Bill 1070, a 2010 law that drew national attention for its crackdown on illegal immigration.

Terán has yet to comment on her 2024 plans. But Democrats pointed to her as a potential contender to keep an eye on.

Several other candidates are reportedly weighing bids. Former state House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding and Phoenix City Council Member Yassamin Ansari told Axios they’re considering running. 

Bolding came in second-place in the Democratic primary for Secretary of State last year — though he may be under investigation for allegedly violating campaign finance law.

Ansari is the youngest woman ever elected to Phoenix’s city council and also the first Iranian American elected to public office in the state. A former United Nations adviser, Ansari ran for city council on a platform focused on climate change.

Mark Kelly’s state director Luis Heredia is also on the shortlist of names. Heredia has worked as a campaign operative in Arizona for years and is a former executive director of the state Democratic Party.

Martin Quezada, a former state Legislator who lost the 2022 race for state Treasurer to Republican Kimberly Yee, is reportedly mulling a bid too.

Maricopa County Supervisor Steve Gallardo, who’s currently running for the state party chairmanship, is another Democrat to watch. He tweeted Tuesday that he wasn't planning on running for the seat, but if he doesn’t win the chairmanship, that could change. Gallardo also ran for this seat when it was open in 2014, though he dropped out of the race before the primary.

Other Democrats who could run include former state Rep. Cesar Chavez, Phoenix City Council Member Betty Guardado, Arizona Corporation Commissioner Anna Tovar, and state Rep. Analise Ortiz.

And state Sen. Catherine Miranda, who lost to Gallego in the 2018 Democratic primary by nearly 50 points, could attempt a comeback bid. But her pro-life positions and past support for Republicans like former Gov. Doug Ducey would make it difficult for her to win a primary.

Drawing Lines
Gallego has made no public indication that he’ll endorse in the primary. But one Democratic source told Inside Elections they expected the congressman to be involved.

Though Gallego’s endorsement would carry weight, it’s certainly not determinative. Democratic voters in 2014 nominated Gallego despite Pastor’s endorsement of one of his primary opponents.

“Endorsements draw political lines, but this electorate is not necessarily paying attention,” Progress Arizona executive director Alex Alvarez told Inside Elections.

Alvarez speculated that some of the supporters who backed Wilcox in 2014 might be aligned with Laura Pastor in 2024.

At least one liberal-leaning group, Phoenix’s United Food & Commercial Workers Local 99, has indicated that it plans to endorse in the primary. As the field takes shape over the coming months, this could be an open seat that draws significant attention from local and national groups.