Republican Elizabeth Emken, of Danville, came out ahead of 22 other U.S. Senate challengers Tuesday, making the "top two" cut to take on incumbent Democrat Dianne Feinstein in November's general election.
Emken, 49, had about twice as many votes as her next-closest competitor, Oceanside businessman Dan Hughes, another Republican. But Feinstein, 78, had about four times as many votes as Emken, reinforcing the incumbent's reputation as practically unbeatable.
Emken campaign spokesman Mark Standriff said Tuesday night the early results were "testament not only to a great candidate but a great campaign."
"We've put ourselves in the right place at the right time, and we're looking forward to ... having an interesting, compelling race starting tomorrow against Dianne Feinstein."
Emken, who lost a House bid in 2010, worked in corporate operations for IBM before going to work for autism advocacy nonprofits. The California Republican Party endorsed her in March, and party chairman Tom Del Beccaro issued a statement Tuesday night saying her results confirmed "that party matters, and so do our principles."
Feinstein's challengers included 14 Republicans, four fellow Democrats and four third-party candidates, none of whom were household names or had particularly deep pockets. They included a surfing rabbi; an attorney-dentist active in the "birther" movement that questions President Barack Obama's citizenship; and an octogenarian ex-Marine who scaled California's highest mountain as a metaphor for his campaign.