Running Different Races, Kyrsten Sinema and David Garcia Join to Rally Educators

Senate candidate Kyrsten Sinema hugs canvassers for a photo op on November 3 at the Arizona Education Association.EXPAND
Senate candidate Kyrsten Sinema hugs canvassers for a photo op on November 3 at the Arizona Education Association.
Joseph Flaherty
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Senate candidate Kyrsten Sinema and gubernatorial hopeful David Garcia have kept each other at arm's length during their campaigns.

But on Saturday morning, the two Democrats were together at the Arizona Education Association headquarters in Phoenix during a rare joint appearance rallying volunteers. The volunteers, many of them veterans of the teachers' strike this spring, had shown up to canvass door-to-door on the last weekend before the election on Tuesday, November 6.

Several other Democratic candidates converged on the AEA to send off the volunteers: attorney general candidate January Contreras, secretary of state hopeful Katie Hobbs, and Legislative District 28 State Senate candidate Christine Marsh.

Although the prospects for his campaign look bleak, Garcia urged the volunteers to stay energized as he bounced around wearing a T-shirt and sneakers. Whatever issue they want to see improved, he said, "it can change in four days, folks."

"We got here because of elections, and because of elections that unfortunately did not go our way," Garcia added. "And starting in four days from now, they will begin to go our way."

Before the rally, Sinema and Garcia stood a few feet from one another in the crowd of supporters while photographers snapped a group photo; however, the distance between their campaigns is enormous.

Sinema has run a non-ideological race, leaning on her moderate record in Congress, where she votes with President Trump's position more than half the time. Garcia has sought to animate a progressive base and catch the tailwind of the #RedForEd movement that led teachers to go on strike in April, with the encouragement and resources of the AEA.

There has been no public exchanges of endorsements, even though they're both Democrats running top-of-the-ballot statewide races. Sinema is neck-and-neck with Republican Martha McSally in the race to replace Senator Jeff Flake. Most polls show Garcia losing to incumbent Governor Doug Ducey by a wide margin.

At the AEA rally of several dozen people, it became clear that Sinema and Garcia were not on the same schedule.

Gubernatorial candidate David Garcia rallies volunteers on November 3 at the Arizona Education Association.EXPAND
Gubernatorial candidate David Garcia rallies volunteers on November 3 at the Arizona Education Association.
Joseph Flaherty

After she finished her brief remarks, Sinema was hustled into a waiting car, dodging a television reporter on the way. The car peeled away from the curb. Garcia hung out for the speeches by Contreras and Hobbs, and he milled around amiably after the rally ended while the volunteers prepared to start canvassing.

Garcia, an associate professor of education at Arizona State University, consistently attended the #RedForEd rallies leading to the teachers' strike. The AEA endorsed him in March.

"We're here almost every weekend," said Sarah Elliott, Garcia's campaign spokesperson, at the canvass launch. "This is the first time we've had anyone in here but [superintendent candidate] Kathy Hoffman."

As the three-term congresswoman for Arizona's 9th Congressional District, Sinema is less of a familiar face for the #RedForEd activists. Nevertheless, she was well-received, earning cheers for her shout-outs to the AEA during her speech, in which she immediately brought up her credentials with the teachers union.

"It is great to be home," Sinema told the volunteers. "Some of you know this — the OG's know — but I was a member of the Arizona Education Association for many years."

She has supported the AEA's message ever since she was a social worker in the Washington Elementary School District, Sinema explained, where she joined the local association and worked as part of the union bargaining team.

Sinema told the now-famous story of how her family was homeless and lacked health insurance for a period of time when she was a kid. (The precise details of Sinema's struggle with poverty have been repeatedly questioned — a theme that re-emerged during her Senate campaign.)

She attributed her path to a better life to "a high-quality public education and access to high-quality health care." Laying out the stakes of the election, Sinema said that the volunteers' work over the next four days is part of a fight "to make sure that every kid in this state, no matter where he or she lives, or where he or she comes from, will have that same shot."

AEA president Joe Thomas, in his enthusiastic introduction, referred to Sinema as the next U.S. senator from Arizona. He praised her as a candidate who supports a level playing field for families that includes affordable college tuition and health care.

Sinema believes "that all of the things that you believe are part of the American dream should be there for you," Thomas said, "And if we fund it, you will take off and have a successful life and be fantastic citizens."

In addition to Sinema and Garcia, the #RedForEd supporters in the crowd are hoping to propel pro-education candidates to victory in down-ballot races and send allies to the State Legislature.

These candidates include people like Marsh, a high school English teacher in the Cave Creek Unified School District and the 2016 Arizona teacher of the year. She is running as a Democrat against incumbent Republican State Senator Kate Brophy McGee to represent north Phoenix in LD28.

In an interview, Marsh said that the energy of the #RedForEd movement will "absolutely" help candidates on Tuesday. "We see it here," she said, referring to the AEA rally and the supporters wearing red. "And we see it in our own individual campaign offices."

Marsh said that when she announced her campaign almost a year before the groundswell of teacher activism began, she had no idea what was going to unfold.

"It's just been amazing," Marsh said. 

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