UPDATE: THURSDAY 7pm
RANCHO MIRAGE – Democrat Raul Ruiz still held a narrow lead today over GOP incumbent Mary Bono Mack in the race for the redrawn 36th Congressional District seat, county election officials said today.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting at 5:20 p.m., Ruiz had 85,419 votes (51.4 percent), compared with 80,740 (48.6 percent) for Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs.
There are, however, about 86,000 mailed-in ballots, 60,000 provisional and 18,000 damaged ballots still to be processed, with an update expected at 6 p.m. Friday, according to the Riverside County Registrar of Voters.
RANCHO MIRAGE – Democrat Raul Ruiz held a narrow lead today over GOP incumbent Mary Bono Mack in the race for the redrawn 36th Congressional District seat.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting at 7:30 a.m., Ruiz had 51.4 percent of the vote, compared to 48.6 percent for Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs.
But about 105,000 mailed-in ballots, 60,000 provisional and 18,000 damaged ballots still had to be processed, with an update expected at 6 p.m. Thursday, according to the Riverside County Registrar of Voters.
”With more than 180,000 ballots still to be counted around Riverside County, it is premature to consider any election results final,” said Marc Troast, Bono Mack’s campaign political director.
”Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack and her campaign will be awaiting the impact of this large number of remaining ballots before making any further statements on the 36th Congressional District race,” he said late this afternoon.
Ruiz, an emergency room physician, said his campaign was ”incredibly encouraged and excited by the election results so far, and are confident that when all of the ballots are counted, I will be the next representative from Coachella Valley.”
”I was humbled by the election results, and cannot wait to start meeting with constituents,” he said.
Troast said Tuesday night that Bono Mack ”ran a very good campaign, a very aggressive campaign. We’ve reached out to a lot of new voters.”
Ruiz, in an election night appearance at the Morongo casino in Cabazon, praised his supporters.
”We have high hopes for a better vision for the Coachella Valley,” he said, adding that he spent Tuesday walking neighborhoods and encouraging people to get to the polls and was pleased with the voter turnout.
The race featured a flood of ads in recent weeks, including spots funded by outside sources like the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Democratic House Majority PAC.
With Democrats sensing a potentially vulnerable Republican incumbent, 40- year-old Ruiz earned the backing of some big-name personalities, including President Bill Clinton and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Unlike Bono Mack’s previous re-election bids, this race was anticipated to be close. Latinos make up almost one-third of the district’s voters, and the Riverside County Registrar of Voters shows a slight edge of registered Democratic voters over Republicans, 114,406 to 114,288.
”Riverside County Democrats have worked hard all season to turn primarily red zones to blue zones,” according to Sue Ann Young, chair of the Riverside County Democratic Central Committee. ”Our greatest victory for registering Democrats has been in western Riverside city proper and the Coachella Valley.”
Bono Mack, 51, was first elected to the 45th district in a 1998 special election held to fill the seat of husband Sonny Bono, who died in a skiing accident. She chairs the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade and the Women’s Policy Committee.
The candidates participated in one debate, which was televised and broadcast online without a live audience.
But the rhetoric got tougher recently, when Bono Mack’s campaign began highlighting Ruiz’s activities in the 1990s — most notably comments he made during a 1999 protest in support of Leonard Peltier, who was convicted in 1977 of murdering a pair of FBI agents on a South Dakota Indian reservation, and Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was sentenced to life in prison for the killing of a Philadelphia police officer in 1981.
Ruiz told The Desert Sun last month he was ”embarrassed” by the remarks, saying he was 27 at the time and was ”caught up in the moment” of student protests.