Raul Ruiz+Brian Nestande

U.S. Representative Raul Ruiz left. Assemblyman Brian Nestande right.

Hank Plante, Special to The Desert
October 25, 2014

Election Day has already come and gone for you if you’re one of the half-million Riverside County voters who requested an absentee ballot. In fact, we don’t have “Election Day” anymore, we have “Election Month” because of all the voting by mail.

The bad news is a projected state turnout for Nov. 4 that could be the lowest in history, perhaps as low as 45 percent of registered voters, according to the Sacramento Bee.

And that could affect races like our 36th Congressional District, which pits incumbent Democrat Dr. Raul Ruiz against Republican Assembly­man Brian Nestande.

Ordinarily, the smart money would be on Ruiz. That’s because of the power of incumbency and also because of his surprisingly strong showing two years ago, when he ousted then-incumbent Mary Bono. Ruiz trounced her by almost 6 points — that’s 12,000 votes — despite her outspending him by $500,000.

But this year is different. Ruiz and other Democrats don’t have President Obama at the top of the ticket to bring out their Democratic base.

Then there’s the lack of a big, statewide Senate race in California, which could cut turnout by as much as 10 percent, according to veteran political reporter Dan Walters.

Another reason Democrats may not be as inspired to turn out is that their party’s leader, Gov. Jerry Brown, appears to be a shoo-in. Four years ago we had the excitement of Brown running for a third term, with a 28-year break in between.

In that election, Brown beat Republican Meg Whitman by 13 points, despite the fact that she spent $140 million of her own money on her campaign. But this year’s governor’s race is so dull that most voters probably couldn’t even name Brown’s opponent. (He is Republican banker Neel Kashkari).

Another obstacle for Ruiz, besides not having a strong draw at the top of the ticket, is simple math. The most current statistics from the secretary of state’s office show the 36th District still tilts toward the GOP, with 2,877 more Republicans registered than Democrats. And consider that in the primary, Nestande and his Republican opponent Ray Haynes received nearly as many total votes as Ruiz got. If those Haynes voters go with Nestande, this will be a squeaker.

But working in Ruiz’s favor is the changing nature of the district and of Riverside County as a whole.

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