A GOP challenger vying to unseat a four-term Democratic congressman from the Coachella Valley said Friday she will not concede until all votes have been counted, despite being down more than 37,000 votes as of latest count.

Republican Erin Cruz of Palm Springs is challenging Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, to represent the 36th Congressional District, which stretches across much of Riverside County, from San Jacinto east to California’s border with Arizona.

Ruiz jumped to an early lead over Cruz and never looked back. As of midday Friday, Ruiz had notched more than 62% of the vote compared to Cruz’s nearly 38%. He claimed victory on election night, but his challenger has continued to hold out.

Cruz told City News Service Friday that Ruiz’s campaign previously reached out for concession talks, but she declined, saying her campaign “will continue to watch the process as the canvass progresses over the next 30 days.”

“It is imperative we respect the process and the voters who participate. Every vote does matter — participation is discouraged due to many feeling like the elections are called well before ballots are even processed, including the ballots of our military,” Cruz wrote in an email. “This must change. Win or lose, know that I do respect all voters, and as such, want to see all votes counted before I respond with acknowledgement.”

Despite 100% of precincts having previously reported, an estimated 381,000 vote-by-mail ballots and 25,000 provisional ballots remain uncounted countywide, according to the latest message posted on the Riverside County Registrar of Voters website. The next update on local results were expected Friday by 6 p.m.

The election results must be certified by Dec. 3.

Ruiz snatched the district from Republican Mary Bono in an upset win in 2012, triggering an era of Democratic reign in a district traditionally controlled by Republicans. He has since secured multiple double-digit reelection victories.

“I’m honored by your decision, your vote and your trust,” Ruiz wrote on Facebook late Tuesday. “You know, as a physician, I know what it means to have someone put their well-being in your hands, and I value your confidence and trust in me as a Congressmember every bit as much as I value it in the emergency room. Thank you.”

Ruiz ran on a platform that spotlighted his work supporting veterans, fighting for affordable health care and protecting against cuts to Medicare and Social Security. Ruiz worked as an emergency room doctor before transitioning into politics.

Cruz, who ran unsuccessfully for a U.S. Senate seat in 2018, ran on a standard conservative platform that included calls to reduce taxes, cut regulations and boost border security. Cruz has authored several books, including “Revolution America,” which is geared toward conservative American women.

One area where Ruiz and Cruz diverged most noticeably is in regard to the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite securing few coronavirus-related legislative victories that could survive the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, Ruiz has been a vocal proponent, both nationally and locally, of using science as a guide to reopening.

Cruz, on the other hand, has voiced support for leaving it up to the individual — not government — in deciding to reopen. Cruz has also publicly lauded President Donald Trump’s move to shut down sectors of international travel early in the pandemic, and even suggested recently she would have acted more aggressively in that regard.

In August, Ruiz turned his attention to Coachella Valley agricultural workers, citing studies that showed the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 on that population. Ruiz, who was raised by farm workers, subsequently deployed to several communities in his district to administer coronavirus tests to these workers.

Ruiz’s science-based perspective on reopening went on public display locally over the summer, when he blasted the Riverside County Board of Supervisors for voting to nix several protocols aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus at the time.

Cruz, meanwhile, has been a consistent voice against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pandemic-related response. She agued in campaign literature that individual counties should decide how to open, not Sacramento. She is no stranger to rallying against the governor. Last year, she launched a recall effort, which fell short of the required amount of signatures needed to be placed on the ballot.

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