California Lt. Gov. wins House race
Lt. Gov. Garamendi defeats GOP challenger Harmer
By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Posted: 11/03/2009 10:25:24 PM PST
Updated: 11/03/2009 10:25:26 PM PST
Democratic Lt. Gov. John Garamendi will soon trade his state title for that of congressman after an expected victory Tuesday in the face of a surprisingly tough GOP challenger.
Garamendi easily beat Republican challenger David Harmer of Dougherty despite late cash infusions from the national party and an enthusiastic volunteer corps.
Outspent 2-to-1 in the heavily Democratic 10th district, the virtually unknown Republican David Harmer mustered just 39 percent of the vote, vowing to tap into public angst over an obdurate recession, federal spending and health care reform.
But Garamendi repeatedly touted his broad and deep political experience, and he never retreated from his support of progressive policies.
"This election offered voters a very clear choice of direction," Garamendi said over the din of his victory party in downtown Walnut Creek. "We also had a very good campaign, with more than 500 people out walking today."
The 64-year-old Walnut Grove rancher will replace Democrat Ellen Tauscher, who left in June for a top job in the U.S. State Department.
He will serve out the balance of Tauscher's term and must seek re-election in 2010 to retain the seat.
Garamendi's victory was one of two bright spots for Democrats nationwide.
In three heavily watched races, New York Democratic congressional candidate Bill Owens was ahead.
But elsewhere, Republican Robert F. McDonnell won the Virginia governor's race, ending Democrats' eight-year control of the seat. Republican Christopher Christie had defeated Democrat incumbent New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine.
Political pundits cautioned against using the outcome of a handful of low-turnout special elections as a harbinger of next year's political landscape — they involve too few races, too few voters and underestimate the impacts of local issues.
But California Republicans characterized Harmer's relatively strong campaign as a sign of voter dissatisfaction with the policies of President Barack Obama and the Democrat-led Congress.
"This morning alone, we had over 350 volunteers at Harmer's campaign headquarters," California Republican Party Vice Chairman Tom Del Beccaro of Lafayette said Tuesday afternoon. "This has been the best campaign response I have ever seen in all the years I have been doing this. In that regard, it is a complete victory. "... We have laid valuable groundwork for the 2010 elections."
A 35-year political veteran of two statewide and two legislative elected offices, Garamendi will lose no time reporting to the Capitol for duty.
He will fly to Washington, D.C., this morning and will be sworn in Thursday.
He could cast his first votes as early as Thursday night if Congress takes up controversial health insurance reform legislation.
The outspoken Democrat has long advocated the adoption of a single-payer, universal health insurance system. As a member of the state Senate, Garamendi wrote a single-payer bill that President Bill Clinton would later use as the foundation of his national proposal.
The son of a Calaveras County ranching family, the former UC- Berkeley football star was elected to his first legislative office before his 30th birthday.
He quickly moved from the Assembly to the state Senate, where he served 14 years.
Garamendi was elected California's first insurance commissioner, an office he held for two nonconsecutive terms, but would lose two gubernatorial races and one state controller bid.