California Rep. Raul Ruiz has new challenger. He's also Raul Ruiz

Odds are right now someone named Raul Ruiz will win the 2020 race to represent California’s 36th Congressional District in the House of Representatives. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be the Democratic incumbent.

Another candidate named Raul Ruiz announced on Thursday that he would challenge the four-term Democratic incumbent congressman. The presence of two Raul Ruizes on next year’s ballot could sow confusion in the minds of voters.

Raul Matthew Ruiz, a 57-year-old Republican carpenter from Perris, Calif., is running because “he sees the big government policies that AOC, Congressman Ruiz and the rest of the liberal partisans in Congress are pushing and knows that they are threatening what makes this country great,” according to the candidate’s website.

Ruiz, a first-time congressional candidate, is the chief executive officer of Tri-R Gen. Contractors, a Perris-based construction company that works on residential and remodel projects. He lives in the 41st Congressional District represented by Democratic Rep. Mark Takano of Riverside, Calif., and withdrew from last year’s Perris City Council election after admitting to misrepresenting his address. Perris requires city council members to live in the district they represent. Members of Congress aren’t required to live in-district.

In his announcement video, Ruiz (the challenger) appears at work with other Tri-R Gen employees and his children and grandchildren. He explains how he started his own construction business after growing up in Riverside County and working in agriculture. 

“I grew up picking vegetables in the fields that feed America,” he says. “In my twenties, I became a carpenter and started a business and employed hundreds, building homes, creating jobs and helping make other families’ American dreams come true.”

Ruiz has hired Republican strategist Peter Towey as a political consultant for his campaign. Towey, who formerly worked on campaigns for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Republican National Committee and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, is the vice president of Targeted Victory, a conservative communication and strategy firm. 

Both Democrats and Republicans have classified the 36th Congressional District a battleground district. In 2018, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee included Rep. Ruiz in their “Frontline Democrats” program, designed to help vulnerable Democrats fund-raise and defend their seats. The National Republican Congressional Committee included Ruiz’s challenger Kimberlin Brown Pelzer, in their “Young Gun” program intended to help Republican candidates unseat Democratic incumbents.

Ruiz ultimately defeated Brown Pelzer by a margin of 18 percentage points and he has officially declared his intention to run for re-election. 

The Ruiz-Ruiz face-off isn’t the first time candidates with identical names have appeared next to each other on the ballot.

In 2018, Rep. Ron Estes, R-Kansas, faced a challenger also named Ron Estes in the Republican primary. The Kansas Secretary of State’s office listed the challenger as Ron M. Estes.

“This is clearly an attempt to deceive Kansas voters,” Rep. Estes’s spokesman told The Associated Press two months before the August 2018 primary election.

Rep. Estes ultimately won the primary by a 62 percentage-point margin.

Rep. Ruiz’s campaign consultant Roy Behr said the Republicans’ choice to enlist a candidate named Raul Ruiz distracts from the political issues facing the district.

“They know they can’t beat the real Dr. Ruiz on the merits, so now they’re resorting to gimmicks and trickery. Their whole strategy is to try to confuse voters,” Behr said.

But Towey said Ruiz’s campaign wasn’t about the fact that he shared a name with the Democratic incumbent.

“There is no attempt to confuse voters. Raul lays out why he’s running in the video and release,” he said.

Sam Metz covers politics. Reach him at samuel.metz@desertsun.com or on Twitter @metzsam.

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