Voters will decide today in a special primary election which among 14 candidates will win a chance to fill an open seat in the 10th Congressional District seat.
Earlier this year Democrat Ellen Tauscher left her seat in the district, which includes much of Contra Costa County, as well as Livermore and other parts of Alameda, Solano and Sacramento counties. Tauscher accepted an offer from the Obama administration to serve in a post at the U.S. State Department, where she has since been confirmed and is now working.
All of the 14 candidates in today's election will appear together on the same ballot, and voters can choose candidates regardless of their party. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, a general election will be held Nov. 3.
The Democrat and Republican who receive the most votes in the primary will face challengers from the Green, Peace and Freedom, and American Independent parties, who are running unopposed.
The race features a few well-known Democrats, an Iraq war veteran with degrees from Harvard and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and a Republican hoping his message of fiscal conservatism can win over a left-leaning district.
Five of the 14 candidates also have substantial funds going into the final week of the campaign. They are Democrats John Garamendi, Mark DeSaulnier, Joan Buchanan and Anthony Woods, and Republican David Harmer.
Lt. Gov. John Garamendi is the highest-ranking politician running for the opening, and has more than 30 years of experience in the public sector, including as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, as California's insurance commissioner and as a state senator and assemblyman.
State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, (D-Concord), also brings experience in the district, having been mayor of Concord, as well as a Contra Costa County supervisor and assemblyman before being elected to the state Senate in 2008.
Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, (D-Alamo), is pushing her business background as a reason to vote for her. Buchanan was the highest-ranking woman at Delta Dental when she left the insurance company.
Republican David Harmer is also pushing a message of fiscal conservatism. Harmer is running virtually unopposed among Republicans, having raised more than $420,000 for the campaign compared to less than $23,000 for the other two Republican candidates combined.
With three Sacramento politicians on the Democrat side, and the son of another one on the Republican side, Anthony Woods, also a Democrat, is running as someone who he says has experienced the challenges people in the district deal with on a daily basis.
Woods was born and raised in the district, and has overcome obstacles such as a lack of health insurance for most of his life. After graduating from West Point, Woods served in Iraq, and upon his return he earned his master's degree from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
San Jose State University political science professor Larry Gerston said that with just a few days left before the primary, the race is fairly wide open.
"There are a lot of balls in the air and we don't know how they're going to fall," Gerston said. "Obviously in the Democratic primary that's where most of the action is."
He said each candidate has something to offer voters, between Garamendi's experience and name recognition, DeSaulnier's strong local support, Buchanan being the only woman among the major candidates, and the possibility of Woods being the "anti-candidate candidate" due to a high degree of political skepticism and alienation among voters.
If no one gets 50 percent of the vote Tuesday, which Gerston said is the likely scenario, then whichever Democrat prevails will have a built-in advantage heading into the November election since registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans in the district.
As of today, Contra Costa County, which makes up a majority of the 10th Congressional District, has 261,530 registered Democrats compared to 135,800 Republicans.
Garamendi said last week that results of polling by Survey USA and KPIX CBS 5 showed that his campaign was leading with 25 percent of the vote, DeSaulnier with 16 percent, Buchanan with 12 percent, Woods with 9 percent, and undecided voters amounting to 5 percent of the estimated vote.
Garamendi said his lead among Democrats as of last week was even starker with 37 percent reported favoring his candidacy.
"Clearly, we like where we stand," Garamendi said.