Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack is still leading in her bid for 8th term representing California's Palm Springs-based 36th Congressional District, but Democratic challenger Raul Ruiz is picking up a lot more traction that political observers expected.
The Rothenberg Political Report has added the 36th to its list of possible upsets and at the same time the Cook Political Report has raised concerns even more among Republicans by moving the race from its leaning Republican column by giving Ruiz an even odds chance of winning.
|Mary Bono Mack (AP Photo)
Ruiz's surge has surprised many in both parties, given the fact that Bono Mack has beaten her previous Democratic challengers by substantial margins. She remains slightly ahead in the polls and by no means is being counted out two weeks before the election.
Still the challenge from Ruiz, a Harvard-educated son of migrant workers, is causing serious problems for her in a district where the growing Hispanic population could end up making a difference in 2012, much sooner than had been expected.
Bono Mack, 50, has represented the area in Congress since 1998 when she won a special election to replace her husband Sonny Bono who had been killed in a skiing accident. She is now married to Florida's GOP Senate candidate Connie Mack IV.
Her 40-year-old opponent, an emergency room doctor, has never run for public office before.
The two have faced off in a debate where Medicare and a number of other controversial issues have been discussed. But lately, the focus of the Bono Mack campaign has been directed at painting Ruiz as "liberal radical," who in the past has attacked American values and traditions, including Thanksgiving.
In a recent press release, for example, her campaign noted that Ruiz was arrested while at Harvard for taking part in a protest in the late 90s against Thanksgiving, which the Ruiz campaign insists was aimed at highlighting how Native Americans have been misrepresented in American culture.
At the same time the Bono Mack campaign has charged that Ruiz once spoke in defense of Leonard Peltier, the American Indian Movement activist convicted for shooting two FBI agents in 1975.
But there are indications the attack on Ruiz may be backfiring. At least two tribal groups located in the district have accused her of attempting to politicize a sensitive issue for Native Americans.
"We are not endorsing either candidate at this time," Tribal Council Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe of Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, said in a recent statement. "However, we call on Rep. Bono Mack to unequivocally repudiate this attempt to portray standing up for Native Americans as somehow un-American."
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