In a widely expected move, California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi put his gubernatorial campaign on ice Wednesday and announced plans to run for the seat of outgoing Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo.
"To be able to apply in Congress what I have learned over these many years is something I find very compelling," he told reporters. "I'm going for it."
Seven-term incumbent Tauscher has been nominated for Undersecretary of Arms Control and International Security.
Tauscher is expected to officially resign after the Senate has confirmed her appointment, which could occur within weeks or months. Voters would then choose her replacement in a special election later this year.
Garamendi, who has signaled his intentions in the past few weeks, made his announcement at a crowed news conference following a tour of a Concord employment training center.
With Patti, his wife of 43 years, at his side, Garamendi stressed his long and varied public policy career as his chief qualifications for Congress and vowed to make jobs the centerpiece of his campaign.
He also cited the ailing economy, environmental protection and health insurance reform, coupled with the pending congressional opening, as the reasons for his decision to step back from his persistent quest to become governor.
He did not mention the fact that he has run for the state's top job twice and lost or that he trails badly in polls.
Garamendi did clear up confusion over whether his rural Walnut Grove home is within the district. The answer is yes and no — the boundary between districts 3 and 10 bisects his property.
"Our front yard is in the 10th district, but our bedroom is not," Garamendi said. "Patti and I have joked that we'll have to move our bedroom down to the dock."
While Garamendi has considerable name identification with voters and decades of political experience, a victory is far from assured.
Open congressional seats are rare and despite Democrats' 18-point registration advantage in the 10th district, a dozen people from both parties have publicly expressed interest.
Garamendi's chief competitor, so far, is state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who announced his candidacy within days of Tauscher's appointment. DeSaulnier already has the endorsements of Tauscher, Rep. George Miller and most of Contra Costa County's labor groups.
Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, also is seriously considering a run.
Garamendi is undeniably a fixture in California politics.
The 64-year-old rancher was elected to the Assembly in 1974. He went on to serve in the state Senate and two separate stints as California's insurance commissioner. He also spent four years as deputy secretary in the Interior Department under President Bill Clinton.
After he was elected lieutenant governor in 2008, he made it clear that he would run for governor. The post often serves as a jumping-off place for the state's highest office.
However, the prospects of a rare congressional opening turned his attention to Washington. He is not alone — two of his 2008 opponents were subsequently elected to Congress.
Voters chose Democrat Jackie Speier to succeed the late Rep. Tom Lantos, and Republican Tom McClintock won the congressional seat held by John Doolittle, who resigned.