Emergency-room doctor Raul Ruiz, a Democrat, narrowly beat six-term incumbent Mary Bono Mack in a heated race for California's redrawn 36th District. Ruiz effectively criticized the Republican's stance on Medicare and overcame attacks about his arrest during a Thanksgiving protest while a student at Harvard Medical School.
The son of farmworkers, Ruiz was born and raised in the Coachella Valley. He dreamed of being a doctor from a very young age. A family friend paid for Ruiz to apply to the University of California (Los Angeles), but he needed money for tuition. Ruiz went door-to-door in his hometown of Coachella with a handmade contract, asking neighbors and local businesses to contribute to his college fund in exchange for his future medical service to the community. He raised almost $2,000.
After graduating from UCLA, Ruiz went to Harvard Medical School. As a student, he spent almost a year in Chiapas, Mexico, through a health and social justice organization, Partners in Health. The experience influenced Ruiz's views on health care. "I came out of there realizing the tremendous nature of poverty and how real policies can actually affect human lives," he later told The Desert Sun newspaper. After graduating from Harvard with three degrees, Ruiz returned to the Coachella Valley and served in the emergency room of a nonprofit hospital. He returned to Chiapas in 2008 to work with the government on implementing health-policy changes for the region. Two years later, Ruiz ventured to Haiti to help with recovery efforts after the catastrophic earthquake there.