Poll: Raul Ruiz within 3 points of Mary Bono Mack

Democrats today released a poll that indicates congressional challenger Raul Ruiz is within striking distance of Rep. Mary Bono Mack.

The poll – funded by Democracy for America and conducted by Public Policy Polling – found Bono Mack is leading 47 percent to Ruiz’s 44 percent. Another nine percent of the 1,281 likely voters surveyed said they were undecided.

The spread between Ruiz and Bono Mack is roughly equal to the the poll’s 2.74 percent margin of error.

The poll, conducted last week, will inevitably rally Democratic support for Ruiz, an emergency room physician who is in his first political bid.

You can see more results here.

But Republicans will be quick to point out that Democrats have expressed similar optimism around Bono Mack’s previous opponents.

The Palm Springs Republican often beats her opponents by double-digit margins. Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, her 2010 challenger, came closest but still lost by more than 9 percentage points in a year when a third-party challenger was on the ballot.

Republicans have not publicly released any polling in the district.

Bono Mack and Ruiz are campaigning for the new 36th Congressional seat. The redrawn district, which includes the entire Coachella Valley, gives Republicans a small advantage in terms of voter registration.

Ruiz accepts debate challenge

For the first time in the 36th Congressional Race, Democratic challenger Raul Ruiz announced today that he would be willing to debate Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack.

Ruiz, an emergency room physician from Palm Desert, made the revelation in a press release that said he had accepted a televised debate offer from KESQ, KPSP Local 2 and the Spanish language station KVER.

“He believes strongly that every candidate has an obligation to a full and vigorous debate,” Ruiz campaign manager Kyle Layman said in the statement today.

A number of local media outlets — including The Desert Sun — have been in contact with both candidates about organizing a debate.

Bono Mack’s political director did not immediately respond to Ruiz’s challenge. But in earlier conversations with The Desert Sun, Bono Mack’s team has indicated that she is willing to debate Ruiz before Election Day.

Bono Mack’s last televised debate was in 2010, when she faced off against Democratic Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet.

That hour-long event, co-hosted by The Desert Sun and KPSP Local 2, marked the first time since 2002 that Bono Mack had gone head-to-head with her opponent.

Marriage equality

In an historic announcement from the White House, President Obama today announced his support for same-sex marriage.

It’s an issue of critical importance to many local officials, including Rancho Mirage Mayor Scott Hines.

This week, Hines signed the “Mayors for the Freedom to Marry” pledge, a national effort is designed to generate broad support for same-sex marriage.

Palm Springs’ Steve Pougnet is the only other desert mayor to sign on, according to the effort’s website.

Palm Springs council last year also passed a resolution to formally support marriage equality.

However, we’re not expecting Rancho Mirage to follow suit because Hines said the city doesn’t usually weigh in on state and national issues unless “it directly impacts our jurisdictional authority.”

“I signed the Mayor’s Pledge for the Freedom to Marry because I feel strongly as a community leader to lend my voice to an injustice I personally feel strongly about,” Hines, a gay man, told The Desert Sun.

“I did this as an individual, and though I know at least several on the council agree with me on this issue, it is up to them as individuals to determine how they wish to be involved on this matter.”

Report: Democratic treasurer to plead guilty to stealing campaign funds

The Sacramento Bee is reporting that well-known campaign treasurer Kinde Durkee will plead guilty to stealing millions from Democrats across California.

Durkee, head of Durkee & Associates in Burbank, was arrested by the FBI in September. Since then, a number of Democratic clubs across the state have had their fundraising accounts frozen as officials tried to figure out the alleged shell game.

According to the Associated Press, federal prosecutors now believe Durkee defrauded at least 50 candidates, officeholders and political organizations out of $7 million in a scheme that dates back more than a decade.

The campaign money was used to cover Durkee’s personal and business expenses, according to the additional charges that the U.S. attorney’s office in Sacramento filed in federal court on Tuesday.

Durkee had authority over more than 400 bank accounts, including political campaigns. Since 1972, the firm worked with five presidential and four gubernatorial campaigns.

Her client list included at least six Democratic clubs from the Coachella Valley and the 2010 congressional campaign of Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet.

Politicians hit the fest

Hollywood’s elite flocked to the desert this weekend to attend the Palm Springs International Film Fest gala.

But the red carpet included several political notables well.

Rep. Mary Bono Mack is a regular at the festival that was started by her late husband, Palm Springs Mayor Sonny Bono.

On Saturday, the Palm Springs Republican presented the Sonny Bono Visionary Award to “The Artist” director Michel Hazanavicius.

Florida Rep. Connie Mack, a Republican who is currently campaigning for U.S. Senate, left the campaign trail to join his wife on the red carpet.

The valley’s own senator, Barbara Boxer, also caught up with The Desert Sun on the red carpet.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever done the red carpet, and I’m warming it up for the real stars who are coming behind,” the Rancho Mirage Democrat quipped.

“It is such an exciting festival. And this year seems to me to be even more exciting. They keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger stars and the films are spectacular.”

My Desert Sun colleagues also spotted Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet and Desert Hot Springs Mayor Yvonne Parks at the black tie event.

The film festival runs through Jan. 16.

The lineup features many political films, including a documentary about former Gov. Edmund G “Pat” Brown.

That film – “California State of Mind: The Legacy of Pat Brown” – screens on Friday and Sunday.

**Update on Thursday, Jan 10:

After spotting this blog, one Desert Sun reader sent in photos that showed a small crowd of protesters gathered near the Palm Springs Convention Center on Saturday.

The protesters’ signs called for the ouster of Bono Mack from Congress, and at least one sign also targeted Mack as well.

Election results updated

Riverside County election officials provided updated election results today.

The new tally does not change any results in the desert, but it does reflect the votes that were cast in the nearly 4,100 by-mail and damaged ballots that didn’t get counted on election night.

They also show the first results for Wayne Gottlieb, a local tax preparer who was the valley’s only qualified write-in candidate. Gottlieb got 20 votes in his effort to unseat Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet.

Pougnet garnered 7,318 votes, which was almost 70 percent of those cast in the mayoral race.

County officials still have to process about 1,000 provisional ballots. They hope to complete that tally by 6 p.m. Wednesday, when updated results will be posted online.

RSA jumps into Palm Springs race

The Riverside Sheriffs’ Association has jumped into the Palm Springs council race, endorsing the position of the Palm Springs Police Officers’ Association.

That means you can expect the well-funded bargaining group to be campaigning for Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, and council challengers Paul Lewin and Liz Glass.

The efforts included at least one round of automated phone calls to voters this week.

The RSA tends to endorse conservative candidates, so it is unusual that the group would join local Democratic clubs in backing Pougnet and Lewin.

The support for Lewin’s campaign is also surprising as Lewin spearheaded the community opposition to the now-shelved plans to build a county jail in Whitewater.

“We have no issue with Mr. Lewin’s disagreement with the county over the specific location of the new jail,” RSA president Pat McNamara told The Desert Sun in an email.

“The bottom line is he supports adding the necessary bed space and the specifics of a location can be worked out when and if the county is ever able to fund it.”

Joining the race

Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet has another challenger.

Wayne Gottlieb, a tax preparer and accountant who has been doing business in the Coachella Valley for more than 25 years, qualified as a write-in candidate today.

Gottlieb said he was “playing with the idea” of running, but committed to the race after a couple of clients suggested he run.

“I might not know how to be a celebrity, but I do know how to balance a ledger,” Gottlieb says on his campaign website. “Numbers are my game. Knowing budgets, taxes and financial statements are important factors for our economy in this day and age. I will get things done by knowing how much money we have.”

Gottlieb told The Desert Sun that he’s supportive of Measure J – a proposed increase of the city’s sales tax – but thinks there needs to be a plan on how to spend the money.

 “Everybody else is just afraid to make recommendations,” Gottlieb said. “I’m really upset over this oversight committee. I think it’s just another layer of people who are going to take too much time making decisions.

This is Gottlieb’s first time running for office. He is the first write-in to qualify for the Palm Springs mayoral race. As a write-in, his name won’t appear on the Nov. 8 ballot and it’s likely he won’t be included in most of the local candidate forums.

Six other candidates are also challenging Pougnet, who was elected to the seat in 2007.

Notable items from the police officers’ endorsement

In case you missed today’s Political Insider, the Palm Springs Police Officers’ Association endorsed Mayor Steve Pougnet and council challenger Paul Lewin in this November’s council elections.

The endorsement is likely to surprise people who have followed the city’s politics.

Consider this:

1. The association chose to endorse only one person in the council race – newcomer Lewin – even though two seats are up for grabs.

2. Both incumbents – Mayor Pro Tem Lee Weigel (a former police chief) and Councilman Rick Hutcheson – had earned the police association’s endorsement in 2007 but didn’t get it this time. Ironically, the elected leaders’ photos still grace the political action section of the association’s website.

3. The police officers’ association supported Pougnet in 2007. But it is certainly notable that he was able to retain that endorsement, even though the 2010 budget forced city officials to shutter the jail, close a fire station and make other cuts to public safety.

Eyeing a comeback

Between a proposed tax hike and Mayor Steve Pougnet’s campaign launch, Palm Springs’ upcoming election garnered plenty of attention this week.

But the Desert Hot Springs’ mayoral race may be just as interesting.

Mayor Yvonne Parks is being challenged by none other than Alex Bias, a controversial former mayor who Parks actually unseated in 2007.

Perennial candidate Robert Bentley has also pulled papers for the seat.

Candidates have until Aug. 12 to qualify for the ballot.