Richard Carmona: Sometimes a team plays itself into a game. Other times a team plays itself right out of contention. Richard Carmona, the Democratic Senate candidate in Arizona, did both.
The race to replace retiring Sen. Jon Kyl looked like a cakewalk for Rep. Jeff Flake. But Carmona's inspiring life story--high school dropout, Army Special Forces, self-made doctor, and SWAT leader, U.S. surgeon general--put Republican-leaning Arizona into play. Carmona's television advertisements featured news footage of the candidate dangling from a helicopter as he was saving a gunshot victim.
The race tightened, to the extent that some Democratic internal surveys showed Carmona leading. Virtually the only arrow Republicans had in their quiver was a report from a former supervisor that he had banged on her door in the middle of the night once, and that he had a problem dealing with female superiors. The attack didn't gain much traction--until Carmona made an ill-advised crack comparing a male debate moderator to CNN's Candy Crowley.
Carmona's biography was his campaign's best asset. He had to run the perfect campaign to win in a red-hued state; the candidate's own gaffe may have cost him the race late. Flake won by 4 points.
Raul Ruiz: California went through the last decade with such precisely gerrymandered districts that only one House member lost his seat. That meant both national parties hardly paid attention to the state. So when a new, independent redistricting board threw as many as a dozen races into contention, neither side really knew what to expect.
Democrats believed the growing Hispanic population in the Inland Empire was their key to unlocking an area that had stayed stubbornly Republican. Ruiz, the son of migrant farmworkers who put himself through Harvard Medical School, was the Democrat best able to take advantage of that shifting population. While Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack coasted toward an expected reelection, GOP strategists became increasingly worried about her chances.
Those fears were well-founded. On Nov. 6, Ruiz became the first Democrat to win the Palm Springs-based district. His campaign will serve as a model to Democrats trying to oust Republicans like Reps. Jeff Denham and Gary Miller, and Rep.-elect David Valadao.