For most of her life, Marlene Galán-Woods was a member of Arizona’s Republican ruling class.
But she broke with the party as it lined up behind Donald Trump and took an increasingly restrictive stance on abortion. Now she is running as a Democrat in a Phoenix-area battleground congressional district.
On Thursday, Galán-Woods picked up the endorsement of EMILY’s List, a Democratic group that backs women who support legal access to abortion. The announcement came two days after Tuesday’s off-year elections signaled that reproductive rights remain a powerful issue for Democrats in red and purple states as well as in blue — and one they hope will offset President Joe Biden’s sagging approval ratings.
“I’m hearing from people on both sides of the aisle that they’re concerned about a woman’s right to control her body,’’ said Galán-Woods, a former television journalist and mother of five. “It’s why I’m running. I’m the only woman, the only mother and the only grandmother, in this race. This is personal to me. The idea that my daughter and my granddaughters would have less rights than I do is unacceptable.”
Galán-Woods is campaigning to unseat Republican Rep. David Schweikert in a closely divided suburban district centered on Scottsdale and the northern reaches of Phoenix that Biden would have won by a scant 2 points in 2020, had the current political boundaries been in place.
The district is a priority for Democrats, who need to gain a net five seats to seize control of the House. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race as Tilt Republican.
Before taking on Schweikert, Galán-Woods will have to get through a crowded primary in August that includes a half-dozen Democratic contenders, including Andrei Cherny, a lawyer and former chairman of the state Democratic Party who worked as a speechwriter in the Clinton White House. (Former President Bill Clinton is hosting a fundraiser for Cherny this weekend.)
Republicans expressed confidence that Schweikert can navigate the complexities of a swing district by focusing on Biden’s record.
“Extreme Democrats in this six-way, race-to-the-far-left primary will struggle to overcome Biden plummeting in the polls and Democrats’ rotten economy, inflation, crime and border crisis,” Ben Petersen, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, said in an email. “Arizonans will re-elect Rep. Schweikert to protect their pocketbooks and keep Scottsdale and north Phoenix safe places to live, no matter what Democrat operatives dream up.”
In the third quarter, Schweikert raised $367,000 and had $802,000 on hand. Cherny brought in $375,000 and had $721,000 in his account, while Galán-Woods raised $220,000 and had about $375,000 on hand.
The EMILY’s List endorsement brings help with fundraising and staff support. It also could lead to financial backing from the affiliated super PAC Women Vote! later in the campaign.
EMILY’s List interim President Jessica Mackler said Galán-Woods is the only candidate “who has what it takes to fight back against anti-choice extremism” and would be a “powerful force for reproductive freedom and democracy in Congress.”
She said Tuesday’s election results in Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky “made it abundantly clear once again: no matter how you dress them up, voters will reject abortion bans and the politicians who support them.”
Possible ballot question
Abortion access in the Grand Canyon State could be on the ballot next year. Advocates are collecting signatures for the Arizona Abortion Access Act, a voter initiative that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. Since Roe v. Wade was overturned, voters in Kansas, California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, Vermont and Ohio have approved measures that strengthen abortion rights or rejected efforts to undermine abortion access.
Galán-Woods isn’t the only Democratic woman running for Congress this cycle who cites abortion a motivator. In California’s open 47th District, attorney and political organizer Joanna Weiss, who was endorsed by EMILY’s List earlier this year, also says the Dobbs ruling that overturned Roe spurred her to run.
“This election is going to come down to reproductive choice and values,’’ Weiss said in an interview last month.
Overturning Roe “galvanized everyone, from Democrats to no party preference voters to moderate Republicans who felt like the party had left them and that the party wasn’t reflecting their values,’’ Weiss said.
That’s certainly the case for Galán-Woods, whose longtime support for abortion rights wasn’t always a disqualifying factor within the moderate wing of the GOP. Her Cuban refugee parents were Republicans, and her late husband, Grant Woods, was Arizona’s Republican attorney general and the late John McCain’s chief of staff when he served in the House. Galan-Woods, her husband and mother left the party following Trump’s 2016 election. Galán-Woods said her mother “walked over glass” to vote for Biden in 2020.
Galán-Woods said she felt increasingly out of step in a party that has taken a hard line on abortion and gun control and has embraced what she called anti-democratic extremism. “My values have never changed,” said Galán-Woods, who describes herself as a moderate Democrat. “But the Republican Party of today is unrecognizable … It was driven right off a cliff by extremists.”