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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Truman Kim

Garamendi beats field for Tauscher

Democratic Lt. Gov. John Garamendi is heading to Washington, D.C., today to be sworn into Congress after beating four other candidates in a special election to fill the Congressional seat vacated by Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek.

Garamendi defeated Republican David Harmer in the 10th District by a wide margin, with Green Party candidate Jeremy Cloward, American Independent Jerome Denham and Peace and Freedom candidate Mary McIlroy even further behind.

While conservatives sought to portray victories in gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey on Tuesday as a referendum on President Obama's administration and a harbinger of voter attitudes for the 2010 midterm elections, Garamendi's resounding victory kept the Bay Area Congressional delegation uniformly Democratic.

His triumph could give Democrats another vote for health care reform as early as this week. Garamendi said a representative from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office urged him to fly to Washington, D.C., today so he could be sworn into office Thursday. "I may very well be there this weekend to provide a critical vote on health care," Garamendi told The Chronicle on Tuesday. "I would be very happy to make that yes vote my first vote in Congress."

Conservatives criticized Garamendi's support for a government-run insurance plan in health care reform legislation in Congress and sent out mailers linking him with Pelosi, D-San Francisco. In the campaign's closing days, the Republican National Committee spent $85,000 on mailers that claimed Garamendi supported higher property taxes. Garamendi said that while Republicans won closely watched governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey, "this victory shows that voters in California remain behind the Obama agenda, the Democratic agenda."

Turnout was estimated to be about 39 percent - "an exceptionally high figure" for a special congressional election in California, said Steve Weir, clerk-recorder for Contra Costa County, where nearly 70 percent of the district's voters live. The district includes parts of Alameda, Solano and Sacramento counties.

Analysts did not expect the race to be close. Democrats hold an 18-point advantage in voter registration in the district, Tauscher won her last four races with at least 65 percent of the vote and Garamendi has been on the ballot several times in the East Bay over his three-decade-long political career.

"The results tell me that this is a very tough district for Republicans," Tom Del Beccaro, vice-chairman of the California Republican Party and a resident of the district, said Tuesday. A few days before the election, he said that if Harmer finished within five percentage points of Garamendi, "that's a major statement."Tauscher left Congress in June after accepting an arms control position in the State Department. Garamendi gathered endorsements from Obama, former President Bill Clinton and other high-ranking Democrats. Elected lieutenant governor in 2006 after 16 years in the Legislature and two terms as California's insurance commissioner, Garamendi ran twice for governor, and lost both contests. He was beginning another run for governor when Tauscher resigned to take her new post.

He lives just outside the 10th Congressional District but his opponents could not make "carpetbagger" attacks stick. Congressional candidates are not required to live in the districts they serve. Harmer, the son of former Lt. Gov. John Harmer, who served from 1974 to 1975, has never been elected. He ran on a platform of fiscal conservatism, criticizing the federal government's bailouts for the auto and banking industries. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will appoint a new lieutenant governor to replace Garamendi.

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