Seventeen candidates in Southern California's heavily Republican Orange County competed Tuesday in a special election for the nation's only open House seat, a vacancy created when Rep. Christopher Cox (search) left to become chief of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The race was expected to become a contest between the conservative and moderate factions of the GOP.

State Sen. John Campbell, a conservative former car dealer endorsed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search), was considered the front-runner.

But Marilyn Brewer, a former state assemblywoman who has kept her distance from President Bush and emphasized her support for abortion rights and the environment, hoped to upset Campbell with support from moderate Republicans, Democrats and independents.

In other races around the country Tuesday:

• Voters in Albuquerque, N.M., decided whether to raise the minimum wage to $7.50 an hour from the current $5.15 under state and federal law, and Mayor Martin Chavez (search) faced three challengers in his bid for re-election.

• In Cleveland, first-term Mayor Jane Campbell (search) faced six fellow Democrats and a Republican in a nonpartisan primary that will send the top two finishers to the Nov. 8 election. The city's first female mayor was hurt by a tough economy that contributed to police, fire and teacher layoffs.

In the Orange County congressional race, third-party candidate Jim Gilchrist (search), a co-founder of the Minuteman Project that has organized volunteer patrols along the Mexican border to stop illegal immigrants, threatened to siphon off support for Campbell among GOP conservatives.

The seat came open when Cox, a conservative 16-year veteran of the House from Newport Beach, was tapped by Bush to head the SEC.

The state Democratic Party endorsed trial lawyer Steve Young, but he was not given much of a chance. Only 27 percent of the district's voters are Democrats.

The top finishers from each party would advance to a runoff in December if no one won a majority Tuesday.

Because the race fell on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, Orange County election officials hurriedly organized five days of early balloting at nine locations, including four synagogues.