Lt. Gov. John Garamendi appears to have topped a crowded field in a special primary election Tuesday for an open congressional seat in the East and North Bay and has earned his way onto a general election ballot in November, according to complete unofficial election results.
Garamendi, a Democrat, had the highest overall vote totals in the election for California's 10th Congressional District, which includes much of Contra Costa County, as well as parts of Alameda, Solano and Sacramento counties.
The election was scheduled to fill the seat previously held by Democrat Ellen Tauscher, who was nominated in March for a State Department position that she accepted in June.
Because no one got more than 50 percent of the vote, a special general election for the seat will be held Nov. 3, and will feature the top vote-getter from each party. The winner will serve the rest of Tauscher's term, which ends in January 2011.
With all 176 precincts reporting, Garamendi took in 26.15 percent of the overall vote, while Republican David Harmer finished second with 20.58 percent and Democratic state Senator Mark DeSaulnier finishing in third place with 17.55 percent, according to the unofficial results.
State Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan and Iraq War veteran Anthony Woods, both Democrats, rounded out the top five with 12 percent and 8.48 percent, respectively.
Garamendi said he was "very, very pleased, particularly with the work the campaign staff did. We had some very good, solid competitors in this race."
He said the difference in the campaign was that he was "the only candidate that has represented every part of the district," and that "people know my work, and my history."
Harmer, son of former state senator and Lt. Gov. John Harmer, will join Garamendi on the November ballot. Harmer easily defeated his five Republican opponents, who were vastly outspent in the campaign and combined to receive just 13.78 percent of the overall vote.
Jeremy Cloward of the Green Party, Mary C. McIlroy of the Peace and Freedom Party, and Jerry Denham of the American Independent Party combined to only get about 1 percent of the overall vote, but will each also be on the November ballot after running unopposed in the primary.
Garamendi will have a built-in advantage heading into the November election since registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans in the district.
As of Aug. 29, Contra Costa County, which makes up a majority of District 10, has 261,505 registered Democrats compared to 135,773 Republicans.
Nevertheless, Garamendi said he would not be taking any of his opponents lightly in November.
"I approach every campaign as though it's going to be the toughest I've ever had," he said. "We look at this and think we can do this, and we'll run the same very aggressive grassroots campaign as we did this time around."
The reporting of the election results was delayed for two hours Tuesday night because of wildfires throughout California.
Dozens of firefighters in the district have been dispatched to assist agencies in six different counties in the state, according to Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder Steve Weir.
Polls closed at 8 p.m. within the district, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an executive order Monday to issue provisional ballots that can be used by the command centers in the affected counties so local firefighters could vote at registrars' offices or command centers in the affected counties.
Because of shift changes and other scheduling issues with the firefighters, the California secretary of state's office kept polls open in those areas until 10 p.m. to allow ample time to vote, Weir said.
That delayed announcement of the race's results since "as long as there's voting taking place somewhere, we can't release results," he said.