With the national focus on today's gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey and the special election in New York's 23rd Congressional District, it's the special election in Livermore and the rest of the 10th Congressional District that is attracting attention on the West Coast.
Voters go to the polls today in the 10th District to decide who will succeed former Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher: Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, 64 and a Democrat, or his Republican challenger and businessman David Harmer.
Long-time Congresswoman Tauscher resigned the post to become the State Department's undersecretary for arms control and international security affairs.
Also today, voters go to the polls in several cities and school districts in Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
San Ramon voters will elect two to the City Council. Councilmen David Hudson and Jim Livingstone are seeking reelection, challenged by newcomers Doug Burr and Jim Brady in today's election.
In Walnut Creek, voters will face the controversial Measure I initiative that would allow a developer to build a downtown store for Neiman Marcus.
Voters also go to the polls in Albany, Emeryville and Newark in municipal elections, and voters in the Acalanes and Walnut Creek school districts are being asked to extend permanently existing parcel taxes.
But it's the 10th Congressional District that, like New York's special congressional contest, is attracting the greatest regional and national attention.
A recent public poll shows Harmer trailing Garamendi by double digits in a district where Democrats make up 47 percent of registered voters compared with 29 percent that are registered as Republicans. The 10th Congressional District includes much of Contra Costa County, as well as parts of Alameda, Solano and Sacramento counties.
Garamendi topped a crowded field in a special primary election in September, but because no one got more than 50 percent of the vote, the general election was scheduled for Nov. 3.
Garamendi has been everything from assemblyman to insurance commissioner to former President Bill Clinton's deputy interior secretary during his 35 years in public service. He is also one of California's better-known politicians with higher-than-usual recognition for a lieutenant governor, especially one who serves with globally-known Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Harmer, on the other hand, is best known for his father, who was a state senator and also lieutenant governor. Nevertheless, Harmer easily defeated the other five Republican opponents, earning him a spot on the ballot.
Since the start of the election season, Harmer has raised about $800,000 to Garamendi's $1 million and released commercials criticizing his Democratic opponent's support for the public option in a health care overhaul.
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 today's ballot after running unopposed in the primary.
Garamendi said that his campaign is going "very, very well," and hopes that today's turnout will be favorable to him.
"Our task is to round up the Democrats," Garamendi said.
He said his campaign's polls have shown that voters "want someone that will help Obama and his agenda, and my opponent is a no vote on everything the president is attempting to do."
A Garamendi win today also could have national significance as an exception to the tough elections other Democrats are facing in New Jersey, New York and Virginia.
Harmer said that his main issue with the president and Congress is what he thinks is a lack of fiscal discipline.
"When the President is promoting policies of limited government, a sound dollar, and economic opportunity, he'll have my wholehearted support," Harmer said.
"You cannot spend money you don't have," he said. "What Congress is doing now is irresponsible. Whatever our disagreement is on other issues, at least we can agree that we can't leave this debt for our kids, and that's the theme of our campaign."
The combination of Garamendi's name recognition and the high number of Democrats in the district seem to give Garamendi the advantage in the race, according to Bill Whalen, a research fellow with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
"There are more Democrats than Republicans in the district, ergo he should win," Whalen said.
Harmer's prospects of winning would depend on "a sentiment out there, which you don't see as much in California as in other states, that people might be in a mood to punish politicians, and Garamendi would fit that mold as a career politician," Whalen said.
If Garamendi is to win the seat, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will have to pick a new lieutenant governor, a decision Whalen said will likely be surrounded by speculation.
A possible candidate is Tom Campbell, a Republican candidate for governor in 2010 who is a former South Bay congressman and served as state finance director for Schwarzenegger.
Whalen said that pick "would be a tremendous boost to Campbell's candidacy, if he had a 'Lieutenant Governor' in front of his name, but Arnold might not want to play favorites in the race."
If the governor were to pick a Democrat, Robert Hertzberg, a Los Angeles businessman who is a former state Assembly Speaker and is an advisor to Schwarzenegger, is another possibility, Whalen said.
"He and Schwarzenegger talk all the time, so I can easily see (the governor) picking him," he said.
Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear declined to comment on possible replacements in the event of a Garamendi victory.
"That's not something the governor is focused on at all," McLear said.
Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.