The well-known 64-year-old lawmaker and rancher from Walnut Grove triumphed over his Democratic competitors in Tuesday's special 10th Congressional District primary.
"I have represented every part of this district for the past 10-1/2 years," Garamendi said via telephone over the din of his campaign party in Walnut Creek late Tuesday. "The people of this district understood that I knew the issues that they cared about and that I could be a good and forceful representative."
The well-known Garamendi will advance to the Nov. 3 runoff as the prohibitive favorite in this heavily Democratic district.
He will most likely face Dougherty Valley attorney David Harmer, who won by a substantial margin among the field of six Republican candidates.
The returns also showed Garamendi beating, respectively, fellow Democrats state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, of Concord; Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, of Alamo; Iraq war veteran Anthony Woods, of Fairfield; and investigator Adriel Hampton, of Dublin.
In addition to the top Republican and Democrat finishers, three minor party candidates who had no primary challengers will compete in the runoff.
Garamendi abandoned his bid for governor earlier this year and set his sights on the rare -- and more attainable -- open congressional seat.
He ran on his broad name recognition and a deep political r sum that includes elected positions in both houses of the California Legislature, two stints as state insurance commissioner and a deputy secretary assignment in the Clinton administration.
Garamendi successfully fended off accusations during the campaign that he was a carpetbagger from a neighboring congressional district who chose an easy contest rather than take on Republican incumbent Rep. Dan Lungren in his home district.
The lieutenant governor's Walnut Grove home sits across the Sacramento River from the District 10 boundary; he couldn't even vote for himself on Tuesday.
The 10th Congressional District stretches from Livermore, up through a slice of the San Ramon Valley, includes Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill, spreads out to East Contra Costa, and takes in parts of Solano and Sacramento counties.
The special election was triggered in June when former Rep. Ellen Tauscher was confirmed as Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security in the U.S. State Department.
Political experts from both parties view the seat as very difficult for a Republican to win.
Democrats have an 18-point registration lead in District 10. And Garamendi, a proven fund raiser who has held public office for 35 years, will have ample cash as constituents and special interests flock to win favor with a presumed new member of Congress.
Despite the steep odds, local Republican leaders hope public angst over the Democrats' health care reform proposals and President Barack Obama's declining poll numbers will push voters into the Republican's column.
"Elections have a history of becoming referendums on sitting administrations," said California Republican Party Vice Chairman Tom Del Beccaro, of Lafayette. "I don't think it's going to get better for Obama" before the Nov. 3 runoff.
The likely GOP nominee, Harmer, a 47-year-old attorney, has never held public office and may find it difficult to bring in the kind of cash it will take to mount a serious challenge in a strong Democratic district.
Harmer has also refused in the primary to disclose his views on social issues, saying voters care more about the economy and jobs than abortion or gay marriage.
He may find it more difficult to duck hot-button social issues in a general election face-off with Garamendi, who is pro-choice and favors the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Harmer was first vice president and assistant general counsel in the credit card division at Providian, which was eventually acquired and dissolved by JPMorgan Chase in January.
Before moving to Dougherty Valley, the California native worked as an attorney in Salt Lake City. He also ran the campaign and Washington, D.C., office of former Utah Rep. Enid Greene Waldholtz for about a year in the mid-1990s.
Reach Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773 or www.ibabuzz.com/politics.
For up-to-date returns in Tuesday's special 10th Congressional District primary election, go to www.contracostatimes.com/politics.