Ruben Gallego, a Democrat, looks to past John McCain donors for money in Arizona

Some of those who helped bankroll the U.S. Senate campaigns of John McCain and Kyrsten Sinema may be chatting this weekend with Democrat Ruben Gallego as he challenges Kari Lake, his most prominent Republican challenger.

Gallego, a five-term Democrat vying for the seat held by Sinema, I-Ariz., who is retiring, will attend an event Saturday in Phoenix on behalf of “Make Elections Fair,” a group seeking to change the rules for voting in Arizona’s primary elections to include more of the state’s independent voters.

It’s a nonpartisan effort, but the event hosted by Chuck Coughlin, a Phoenix-based political consultant, will bring some of those who have contributed heavily to Sinema or Arizona GOP politics into the room with Gallego.

Rep. Ruben Gallego speaks in Phoenix on the state's Supreme Court ruling to uphold near-total ban on abortions on April 12, 2024.
Rep. Ruben Gallego speaks in Phoenix on the state's Supreme Court ruling to uphold near-total ban on abortions on April 12, 2024.

Among those expected to attend are people such as banking executive David Reese, who has given at least $63,000 to Republicans since 1978; and Don Budinger, a philanthropist who has divided about $140,000 between the two major parties, given to Sinema and to a Pennsylvania Republican running for the Senate this year.

Coughlin, who has given $1,000 to Gallego’s campaign, has told his Republican allies to come and “kick the tires” on what Gallego might be like as a senator.

“There’s this whole Republican narrative about how progressive he is. I don’t think he’s going to be that bad,” Coughlin said. “I think he had that role in the House, trying to distinguish himself in a body of 435 souls. I think he’s read the tea leaves on this thing correctly and he wants to be useful and approachable in the tradition of Arizona senators who want to help the state.”

Others who are listed as attendees include Bob Bertrand, the chair of Concord Servicing Corp.; Craig Krumwiede, president of Harvard Investments; former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson, a Democrat; and Terry Goddard, the former Democratic Arizona attorney general.

Make Elections Fair is a proposed constitutional amendment that would eliminate partisan primaries and replace them with a single open primary. Supporters view it as a bulwark against partisan extremism. Coughlin said the effort had nearly 400,000 signatures and will be on the November ballot.

Gallego’s campaign declined to comment on its fundraising efforts.

Through March, Gallego had opened up a significant financial edge over his Senate challengers.

He had $9.6 million in cash and his campaign ads have become a regular presence on television and other screens. Lake had $2.5 million in cash and $451,000 in debt. She recently began a round of TV ads in cooperation with the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, who is also challenging for the GOP nomination, had $254,000 in cash and $117,000 in debts.

Sinema’s decision not to run for a second term created a financial opening for some of her more conservative donors who may be hesitant about backing Gallego and unwilling to support Lake, who has held firmly to an agenda modeled after that of former President Donald Trump.

Gallego quickly picked up the support of many of Sinema’s supporters after she quit the Democratic Party in December 2022 and he entered the Senate race a month later.

When Sinema was a Democrat, she was among the most prolific fundraisers in the Senate. Her financial support cratered after leaving the party.

Many of those who supported McCain, meanwhile, have been unwilling to invest in Lake, who, like Trump, has publicly feuded with McCain’s family.

During her 2022 gubernatorial campaign, Lake memorably asked a crowd, “We don’t have any McCain Republicans in here, do we? Get the hell out!”

She said the GOP “was the party of McCain. It was bad. Arizona has delivered some losers, haven’t they?”

During a radio interview in February, Lake tried to claim her earlier remarks about McCain were “said in jest. And I think that if John McCain, who had a great sense of humor, would have heard it, he would have laughed.”

Meghan McCain and Arizona Senate GOP candidate Kari Lake.
Meghan McCain and Arizona Senate GOP candidate Kari Lake.

Lake said all Republicans “need to get a little bit thicker skin because we’re going through some tough stuff right now and we need to be able to take a joke.”

McCain’s daughter Meghan McCain wrote “No peace, b----” on social media, setting the tone for another reminder of Lake’s battles with Republicans, including former Gov. Doug Ducey and Karrin Taylor Robson, a rival who Lake defeated for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona Senate race: Ruben Gallego to raise money from McCain donors