Republican Jeff Denham and Democrat Jose Hernandez will battle head-to-head for a seat in Congress this November.
They took what appears to be an insurmountable lead in Tuesday's primary election, far outdistancing the three other 10th Congressional District candidates.
Chad Condit — an independent who ran a grass-roots campaign for the seat once filled by his father, Gary — was third, with candidates Troy McComak and Michael Barkley far behind.
While the top two vote-getters move on to the fall general election, Denham's showing Tuesday — garnering about 47 percent of the early votes counted — makes him the odds-on favorite. Hernandez had about 30 percent, which was about twice as much as Condit.
Denham, 44, said he was pleased with Tuesday's results. "We expected we were going to look strong," he said, noting that his campaign staff worked hard to get out the vote.
The congressman said he knows it won't be an easy race against Hernandez.
"I can expect the worst from Nancy Pelosi," said Denham, who contends that the House Democratic leader from San Francisco has vowed to do whatever it takes to elect Hernandez.
But Denham is confident he will pick up most of the voters who went for Condit.
"I've always done very, very well with independents," said Denham, who flew back to Washington after voting Tuesday morning in Turlock.
Hernandez, 49, celebrated his victory at his campaign headquarters in Modesto, where a couple hundred supporters gathered.
"We're very happy with the results," Hernandez said. "It went exactly how we expected it to go."
Now that only he and Denham are in the running, Hernandez said, "it's going to be very easy to show the differences between myself and my opponent."
Hernandez expects "much more voter participation" in November because of the presidential election, which he thinks will help him.
A former astronaut who grew up in San Joaquin County, Hernandez has received heavy support from Democrats across the nation. More than $600,000 has been donated to his campaign — almost all of it from outside the district.
Because of the 2010 census, all congressional boundaries shifted this year to equalize the population in every district.
Denham's current 19th Congressional District boundaries had included eastern Stanislaus County, so voters there were familiar with his conservative politics.
The new 10th District includes all of Stanislaus County plus Escalon, Ripon, Manteca and Tracy in southern San Joaquin County. It has a much more politically mixed population than Denham's old district, which is why Democrats and independent candidates figured they had a shot at victory.
Denham's supporters, however, have given him $1.4 million to convince constituents to vote Republican. Like Hernandez, the vast majority of those funds have come from outside the 10th District.
Since Condit collected only about $45,000 in donations, he had to focus his campaign on low-cost efforts to motivate voters. He walked precincts, attended community gatherings and relied primarily on family members to help promote his campaign.
"I always knew it was going to be an uphill climb," Condit said just after results started coming in. While he received about 19 percent of the vote in Stanislaus County, he got only about 5 percent in San Joaquin County.
"We ran a good campaign," Condit said. "But I obviously didn't do a good enough job to get my message out in San Joaquin County."
Despite the loss, Condit — who campaigned on the need for elected officials to focus on constituents rather than political party bosses — warned Republicans and Democrats to "pay attention because a third-party movement is going to come if they don't get their act together."
Condit worked up to the last minute to rally support, but he didn't sound bitter about the results.
"I want to thank everyone," Condit said. "I had a ball doing this."
There will be lively congressional races elsewhere in the San Joaquin Valley this November.
In the 9th District, which includes parts of San Joaquin and Alameda counties, Democratic incumbent Jerry McNerney will face Republican Ricky Gill.
In the 16th District, covering Merced through Fresno counties, Democratic incumbent Jim Costa will face Republican Brian Whelan.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2196.