Bono Mack holds early edge over Pougnet

June 10, 2010

The national attention on the Coachella Valley’s 45th District congressional race will go into hyperdrive now that the primary is over, and we head toward November.

There are few races as compelling as the one that pits incumbent Republican Mary Bono Mack against Democratic Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet.

The Desert Sun’s earlier reporting on the nationwide political contributions coming into the valley because of this race is one indication of its news value.

Celebrity candidates:

Mary Bono Mack brought a touch of celebrity to the job, after inheriting it from her late husband, Sonny Bono, in 1998.

The Democrat in the race, Steve Pougnet, is also a celebrity candidate, in large part because of his role as an openly gay father with two children. Pougnet and his partner have come to typify a 21st century family in this diverse state.

Bono Mack’s recent vote against repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy gives voters a glimpse at how different the choices are between the two candidates.

But what can we expect in the fall, based on Tuesday’s vote?

Bono Mack easily won her Republican primary. And the raw numbers show she may already have an advantage going into November.

A lead in raw votes:

As of Wednesday morning, Bono Mack garnered 21,692 raw Republican votes — far exceeding Pougnet’s 18,154 raw Democratic votes. Consider also that Pougnet was unopposed, and he didn’t have to share those Democratic votes with any other candidate. But Bono Mack had a Republican opponent, Clayton Thibodeau, who won another 9,696 votes (31 percent of the Republican vote).

Bono Mack will presumably pick up many of Thibodeau’s votes in the fall (although she may also lose some to American Independent candidate Bill Lussenheide, who is popular with the tea party movement).

Pougnet is well-aware that registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in Riverside County by 4 points (41.60 percent to 37.62 percent). But he may be buoyed by the fact that President Obama carried the 45th District in 2008.

Independents a factor:

Pougnet’s vote total Tuesday may have been lower because he was unopposed, so many Democrats (or independents) didn’t bother to vote for him. No doubt, he will work hard to ignite those voters before November, particularly those in his Palm Springs base.

But the raw data show his real challenge, and he will have to work hard to turn out that base, and also to appeal to moderate “decline to state” voters (the fastest-growing political registration in the state).

He may also gain ground by painting Bono Mack as yet another Washington insider, during a year when the electorate seems disenchanted with incumbents.

In any event, this race is the one to watch for so many people who are looking for clear choices and stark contrasts.

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