First time congressional candidate, emergency room doctor and son of farm workers, Raul Ruiz, 40, is polling even with Republican congresswoman Mary Bono Mack, the widow of Sonny Bono. The race for California’s 36th district, near the Palm Springs area, was recently called a toss-up and Democrat Ruiz out-fundraised Bono Mack in the last quarter.
Ruiz was largely considered the underdog for most of this year, but in recent months he’s come from behind and is now running even with his Republican opponent. This is particularly interesting, as Bono Mack has been in Congress in the area since 1998. What’s more interesting is that Ruiz raised $156,000 more than Bono Mack did in the last quarter.
The race has been so close that it seems Bono Mack got a little desperate and looked for “dirt” on Ruiz to use in the closing weeks of the campaign. The Bono Mack campaign released an audio recording of Ruiz from his days at Harvard in the 1997 when he read a letter from a Mexican Zapatista in support of Native American activist Leonard Peltier.
According to The Los Angles Times:
“Bono Mack called Ruiz a “radical” for taking part in a similar protest two years before and being arrested. The charges were later dropped. Ruiz said he had been taken into custody because he was protecting a tribal elder from being beaten by police.”
Ruiz initially said he didn’t remember the letter, then responded with an ad that painted Bono Mack as a cynical politician who didn’t really care about the poorer communities in the 36th district. Two representatives from each campaign even got into an argument over the issue on Twitter.
In either case, both candidates need to make nice with the Native American community in the area, as Indian casinos in the area are a huge economic engine. And from the looks of it, Bono Mack is on the losing end of the attack after she was criticized for taking this route by the Tribal Alliance of Sovereign Indian Nations, which said they previously had a good relationship with her. The letter read in part:
“Vilifying someone who nobly stood with Indians and protected an Indian elder is at best gratuitous and opportunistic. At worst, it is a betrayal of a friendship, an attack against tribal peoples and others who have stood with us to protect the inherent rights we have left…We know you know better.”
Meanwhile, Ruiz gave an interview to the Indian Country Today Media Network in which he said the arrest was a misunderstanding and that he was trying to commemorate Native Americans’ contributions to the U.S. The story also noted that the Bono Mack campaign didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.