Rep. Jeff Denham took a strong early lead and appeared to be headed to an easy victory Tuesday in the 10th Congressional District.
The Turlock Republican called it "an exciting night" as returns showed him more than 11 percentage points ahead of Democratic challenger Jose Hernandez.
The newly drawn 10th District includes all of Stanislaus County, plus Escalon, Ripon, Manteca and Tracy.
Denham and Hernandez had been locked in a caustic campaign dominated by TV attack ads financed by national political action committees.
But the key to his success, Denham insisted, was that he and his volunteers worked harder than Hernandez on the ground, walking precincts and talking with constituents.
"Having Nancy Pelosi running a campaign against me was a challenge," Denham said. San Francisco Rep. Pelosi is the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives. Denham's campaign long had contended Pelosi was pulling Hernandez's strings and orchestrating the funding of his election effort.
"They (national Democratic organizations) were trying to buy the campaign from the outside," Denham said.
Hernandez did not return calls for comment Tuesday night and stayed in a back room at a party held for Democratic candidates in downtown Modesto.
Early Tuesday evening, Hernandez's campaign manager, Dan Krupnick, expressed hope his candidate might pull ahead once votes cast at the polls were counted, rather than just the mailed-in ballots. But that didn't happen.
While this election might be over, Denham insisted he will continue to press a libel lawsuit against those who financed and profited from a TV ad attacking his support for veterans.
Denham, who served 16 years in the Air Force, said the ad maliciously misrepresented his congressional voting record. He filed a federal lawsuit two weeks ago against the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee that produced it and the TV stations that continued to broadcast it.
"We're going to prove to both parties that you cannot lie and get away with it," Denham said.
The negative advertising that dominated the airwaves this fall was an indication of how badly Republicans and Democrats wanted to win the 10th District.
It is one of California's most politically balanced districts, with registered voters being about 40 percent Democrats, 39 percent Republicans, 17 percent with no party preference and the rest split among minor parties.