Voters in Northern California traded one reliable Democrat for another by electing a career politician who will back the Obama administration's health care reform efforts and other initiatives.
Unlike the headline-grabbing congressional race in upstate New York, California's special election was predicable and largely uneventful. Lt. Gov. John Garamendi added a new chapter to his 35-year political career after defeating Republican David Harmer on Tuesday to represent the 10th Congressional District.
With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Garamendi had 52.9 percent to Harmer's 42.6 percent in unofficial results.
Garamendi, 64, said throughout the campaign that he will support the president in his effort to repair the economy and would vote with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on health care legislation. He told supporters gathered at his campaign headquarters in Walnut Creek that he planned to be on a flight Wednesday to Washington for his swearing-in this week.
"We're going to deal with the health care issue, the economy, the foreclosure issue, the jobs," Garamendi said. "We're going to start it off in a big hurry."
Garamendi's career stretches back to the mid-1970s, when he was elected to the Legislature. He also has served as California's insurance commissioner, had two failed bids for the Democratic nomination for governor and served as undersecretary of the Interior Department in the Clinton administration.
Harmer, a 47-year-old attorney, had tried to appeal to moderate Democrats and independents with an agenda based on fighting excessive government spending.
The seat opened earlier this year when the incumbent, former Rep. Ellen Tauscher, was confirmed to an undersecretary position in the State Department. The district stretches from the suburbs of the eastern San Francisco Bay area to the edge of the state capital.
Garamendi's departure from the lieutenant governor's post represents an opportunity for Republicans, said state GOP Chairman Ron Nehring. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will need to nominate a replacement to fill the remainder of Garamendi's term, which runs through January 2011.
"Democrats have gained nothing. They have held on to a Democratic seat they held previously," Nehring said. "Republicans have an opportunity to take the lieutenant governor's seat."
The Assembly and Senate, both with Democratic majorities, would have to approve the nominee on a majority vote.