Democrat Raul Ruiz scored a major upset victory Tuesday night in California’s 36th Congressional District, handing Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack her first loss in her 14-year political career. Ruiz, an emergency room doctor, won the election by nearly 3 percentage points, 51.4 percent to 48.6 percent.

Los Angeles Times:

California’s rejiggered political maps, combined with a decline in GOP voter registration, turned the contest into a high-stakes tossup. The split between Republicans and Democrats in the district, which includes Palm Springs, Indio and Blythe, is less than 1 percentage point.

Bono Mack accused Ruiz of being a “radical” for taking part in a Native American protest of Thanksgiving when he was a Harvard medical student in the late 1990s.

Ruiz assailed Bono Mack for supporting the budget plan of GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin; Ruiz said the plan would decimate Medicare.

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Things got heated in the waning days, with Ruiz slamming Bono Mack for comments she made about her party needing to do a better job of reaching out to Latino voters once the election was over. Latinos make up nearly half of the district’s population.

“She’s had 14 years to give them the attention that they deserve. This is unacceptable,” he said. “A representative should represent all of their district. And far too many have been left behind.”

Outside money also played a huge role in the campaign, with the parties and other groups pumping more than $3.3 million into the race. The House Majority PAC, which looked to help Democrats retake control of the House, spent a paltry (by comparison) $330,000 to help Ruiz to victory.

Even so, the odds of Ruiz winning were once thought to be long.

San Francisco Chronicle:

Earlier this year, political analysts thought Bono Mack would not face serious trouble for another two years or more, but the new district drawn by a citizen’s commission has a smaller GOP edge and more independents. Political analysts thought Bono Mack had the edge and the race was not really on radar screens until a late surge by Ruiz. Ruiz volunteers continued knocking on doors even on election day.

Ruiz touted his background and claimed political independence. His campaign biography declares, he “is not a politician; he is a public servant and physician, dedicated to serving the community. The son of farm workers, Raul grew up in Coachella and learned at an early age that the key to attaining the American Dream was hard work and a great education. In the summer of 1990, under the hot desert sun, Raul walked from business to business in the Coachella Valley asking them to invest in their community – by contributing to his education. With each investment for college, he made a promise to come back home and serve the community as a physician.”

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Bono was first elected to Congress after her husband, musician Sonny Bono, died in a skiing accident in Lake Tahoe. She has since married Connie Mack, a Republican congressman who also lost Tuesday night in the Florida Senate race against Democrat Bill Nelson.

— Posted by Tracy Bloom.

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