Editor's Note: In the final 100 days before Election Day, CNN has been profiling one race at random each day from among the nation's top 100 House races, which we've dubbed "The CNN 100." Read the full list here. Today's featured district is:
California 45th: Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R) is seeking a seventh term
Primary: June 8, 2010
Location: Southern California, Palm Springs
Days until Election Day: 58
California's 45th congressional district has never been represented by a Democrat, but the majority party is looking to give six-term Rep. Mary Bono Mack a run for her money.
The district, which includes Palm Springs and the slice of rural southern California just to the city's east, has seen a population growth of 28 percent since 2000. Hispanics now make up 41 percent of the population. As such, an electorate that overwhelmingly voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 handed President Obama a 5-point victory two years ago.
As her constituency shifted toward the middle of the political spectrum, Bono Mack shifted across party lines to vote with the Democrats on some key pieces of legislation. In 2007, she was one of 82 Republicans to vote in favor of raising the minimum wage. In 2008, she voted in favor of the financial industry bailout known as TARP. And in June, she was one of eight Republicans to support the Democrat's "cap and trade" energy bill.
Bono Mack's Democratic opponent, Steve Pougnet, is the mayor of Palm Springs, the same post Bono Mack's late husband and predecessor, Sonny Bono, held before being elected to Congress in 1994. Pougnet has the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and is listed on their "Red to Blue" program, which offers him a considerable financial boost. The DCCC said candidates admitted to the program are those who "skillfully demonstrated to voters that they will work to create jobs and stand up for the middle class."
Palm Spring's large gay community has made equal rights a key issue in the race. Bono Mack has not taken a stance on Proposition 8 but has twice voted against constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. Pougnet, who is openly gay, supports repealing Prop. 8, the Defense of Marriage Act, and the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
The district shares a border with Arizona and is within 50 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, which has thrust immigration reform into the spotlight as well. Pougnet opposes Arizona's controversial immigration law, the strictest parts of which have been temporarily blocked by a federal judge. Bono Mack has stopped short of endorsing Arizona's legislation, but said the state's citizens voted for the law because the Obama administration has "failed to act" on immigration.
While not a lock for re-election, she enters the final two months of the campaign with some clear advantages. As of mid-year, Bono Mack had a $1.2 million to $878,000 edge over Pougnet in cash on hand. Two well-respected non-partisan political handicappers, Stuart Rothenberg and Charlie Cook, list the race as "Republican Favored" and "Likely Republican," respectively. Also, the incumbent has rarely dipped below the 60 percent mark in her previous races. Her worst showing at the polls was in 2008, but even in that Democratic wave year, she received 58 percent of the vote and won with a 17-point margin of victory.
Nonetheless, Democrats feel they have a legitimate shot at an upset against Bono Mack, and they have fielded their strongest possible candidate in Pougnet. While Bono Mack is potentially vulnerable, Pougnet and Democrats face a tough challenge in trying to oust a Republican in a marginal district, all while fighting a national political environment that should be difficult for the president's party.