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Díaz and Boas: Is Gallego playing identity politics in his Senate campaign?

Arizona has never had a senator who’s Latino — that’s despite the fact that 33% of Arizonans are Latino — and it’s a fast-growing part of our population. 

But, when Democratic candidate Ruben Gallego posted these facts on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, and said that’s going to change in November — presumably when he will be elected — he was called out for playing identity politics and “running mostly on a campaign of being Latino.” 

But Elvia Díaz says no so fast. Díaz is the editorial page editor of the Arizona Republic and she joined The Show with columnist Phil Boas to talk more about it.

Conversation highlights

Is this not identity politics or is it identity politics that matters?

ELVIA DIAZ: Well, it is identity politics, but the idea is who's doing the identity, who's doing the politics here? Who, who's saying that? So I wrote a column based on another column from a colleague of mine that wrote about Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat turned independent — whom we still don't know if she's gonna be running for the U.S. Senate — and her column specifically about Sinema’s dealings with immigration at the U.S. center right now, you know, possibly brokering a deal. And she had a line there — the fact that it was characterized as running a campaign of being Latino cut my attention because I thought, well, did I miss anything? I mean, well, what is it that I miss?

So obviously, I paid closer attention and it was one tweet and that's what really got me interested. And of course, we discussed this extensively internally and I want to read you that tweet because I think it's very telling. So essentially what Ruben Gallego admitted and that's a great political sin that I'm writing about is that 33% of Arizonans are Hispanics and that 33% of Arizonans do not have a Hispanic representative in the U.S. Senate from Arizona. And that that would change in November if he gets to be elected. That's it. It is one tweet, it’s stating a fact and my point is that he doesn't have a choice. He is Hispanic. He's gonna be characterized as being a Hispanic no matter what.

PHIL BOAS: You know, God bless Ruben. Ruben Gallego can do whatever he wants. It's his campaign and he can message any way he wants to. I think he made a mistake with this tweet because it comes off as identitarian. He sounds like the candidate who is running to represent Latinos. And we actually have a control study on this in Arizona — and it was David Garcia.

David Garcia ran for superintendent of public instruction in 2014 and surprised everybody because he beat Diane Douglas in Maricopa County. He lost her by one point as a Democrat to the Republican even though she had an enormous registration lead over him. But he did take Maricopa County, which is largely — it has a huge Republican advantage. He had real crossover potential and he was showing it. Then he runs for governor and he runs completely as an identitarian politician. He runs as the Latino candidate and he's all about the border issues and things like that. And he got killed by Doug Ducey — he lost by 14 points, it was a landslide, And he was a guy with so much potential and we haven't heard from him since really. He hasn't really been a factor when he seemed to have the world in his hands after that race against Douglas and performing so well. So to put out a tweet like that, I think it was a mistake. But what, what really I think was dumb about it is I don't think that describes who Ruben Gallego is. Ruben Gallego has amazing life experiences, part of it being growing up poor, Latino in Chicago, sleeping on the floor, you know, having these life experiences that he sees so much going on to Harvard, serving in the military, and he's really been projecting a lot of that, especially the military service, the veterans and things like that more so than the Latino messaging.

Other people who have had this seat, notably Kyrsten Sinema — who has not declared whether or not she’s running — ran a very tightly managed and tightly messaged middle-of-the-road centrist campaign, and many say that if Gallego wants to win, then he will also do that. But this is not the same, what do you think?

BOAS: There's real doubt as to whether Sinema is even gonna get into this race, and Ron Hansen at the Republic just did a story about how she's running out of time. She has to make a decision very soon in order to be on the ballot. And there's no indication yet that she is going to run. And I mean, if you have the Sinema in the race, the the there might be an argument for going identitarian, but if this is gonna be Kari Lake and Ruben Gallego and I think, Ruben Gallego, politically speaking wants to go as mainstream as he can and get the crossover that he can and, and just being a veteran and, and his service in Iraq, he's gonna win support. He has the potential to win a lot of support among working class republicans and veterans republicans. He can win those people, some of those people, you know, if he doesn't go too far with woke politics. Now he controlled that tweet. Who was emboldened by that tweet? It was Kari Lake.

Kari Lake responded, you know Ruben Gallego is running for Senate to represent just a third of our state. I'm running to represent all Arizonans. She says the race card isn't gonna work for you here, Ruben. You can see how this created an enormous opening for Kari Lake that she just drove her truck through. And who do you think is happiest today that we're talking about this issue on KJZZ, it's not Ruben Gallego?

Do you think Gallego should run a Sinema-like campaign? Why does talking about the fact that he’s Latino counter that?

DIAZ: Sadly, Arizonans do wanna hear someone who doesn't even mention the fact that you are a minority, you know, they want mainstream politics. So this is a larger issue overall that Arizonans may be willing to vote for a Latino, as long as you don't say that you are a Latino. Although that person has no control, has no say on his background. So it does talk about the kind of electorate that we have and Arizona the kind of voters that we have. So I do acknowledge that he will have to run a very scripted and tight campaign. I do agree with that. But my argument as well is that, that really indicates the kind of voters that we have in Arizona. That identity politics plays a role here but not from the person running the campaign but from everyone else that borders themselves.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.