Schiff takes narrow lead in Senate race; tight battle for the second, new poll shows

Who could replace the late California Senator Feinstein in the 2024 elections? Clockwise, from top left: Rep. Adam Schiff, Rep. Katie Porter, former Los Angeles Dodger Steve Garvey and Rep. Barbara Lee.
(Los Angeles Times)

Schiff takes narrow lead in Senate race; tight battle for the second, new poll shows

Elections 2024, California politics

Benjamin Oresces

January 12, 2024

The battle for second place in California’s U.S. Senate race between Rep. Katie Porter and former Dodgers star Steve Garvey appears volatile as the March 5 primary draws closer, according to the latest poll from the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, co-sponsored by The Times.

Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Burbank leads the field by 4 percentage points in a race that has so far lacked much tension, although that could change now that the candidates have launched political ad campaigns and are set to face off against each other to collide in a trio of television broadcasts. debates in the next two months.

According to the survey, Porter (D-Irvine) is slightly behind Schiff and has a narrow second-place lead over Garvey, the top Republican in the race.

Schiff is supported by 21% of likely voters, compared to 17% for Porter and 13% for Garvey. Schiff and Porter were virtually tied in October’s Berkeley poll.

The other top Democrat in the race, Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland, had the support of 9% of likely voters, the poll found. About a fifth of voters surveyed chose one of 23 other candidates during the crowded ballot, and the rest said they were undecided.

The top two vote-getters, regardless of party and share of the vote, will compete against each other in November. Given Democrats’ huge registration advantage in the state, Garvey would be at a significant disadvantage if he were to advance to the general election.

The poll also showed how divisions among voters over the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza are having an effect on the fighting.

Voters will be asked to vote on two separate Senate elections at the March ballot, one for the Senate’s full six-year term that begins in January and the other for the remaining months of the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s term.

In that second race, there are only seven candidates on the list, and the poll shows the margins are tighter. Schiff still leads among likely voters with 21% support. Porter has 18%, Garvey has 17%, Lee has 12% and Republican Eric Early has 11%.

The contrast between the two races shows that as the number of candidates, especially Republicans, consolidates, Garvey’s support grows, said Mark DiCamillo, director of polling at the Institute of Governmental Studies and a longtime pollster in California.

That offers evidence that Garvey has a chance to finish in the top two in the March primary and qualify for the November general election, rather than two Democrats convening in the fall, DiCamillo said.

The open question really is who will come second, and our poll shows Katie Porter still ahead of Garvey, although there has been movement toward Garvey in each of our polls, he said.

There is certainly an opportunity for him to marshal the Republican votes that come his way. I think the debate will help in that respect.

Garvey’s support has nearly doubled since August’s Berkeley poll, while Porter’s numbers have remained about the same.

The poll found that of the four top candidates, Schiff was the only one about whom a majority of likely voters knew enough to form an impression. A ubiquitous guest on cable news programs, Schiff captured the national spotlight when he presided over the first impeachment trial of then-President Trump.

About 43% of likely voters had a favorable view and 31% an unfavorable view of Schiff. He is popular among Democrats (67% have a favorable opinion) and unpopular among Republicans (68% have an unfavorable opinion).

Porter is less known but still popular, with 39% of likely voters saying they have a positive impression of her. Only 16% said they had an unfavorable impression of her. The rest had no opinion.

Garvey, who officially entered the race in October, wants to increase his profile among older sports fans. The


year-old played for the Dodgers and the San Diego Padres, but he hasn’t taken the field since the 1980s. He is viewed favorably by 24% of likely voters and unfavorably by 21%. The rest had no opinion of him.

Schiff’s narrow lead is partly driven by his ability to grow his support in voter-rich Los Angeles County in recent months. In the October poll, Porter led Schiffs by 4 percentage points (22%-18%); now it ranks higher in the province by the same margin (23%-19%). Ship also leads by wide margins in the Bay Area, Central Valley and Sacramento regions.

Porter is up 12 percentage points (24%-12%) at home in Orange County, while the two are essentially tied in the Inland Empire and the San Diego region.

The most powerful political issue of the moment was Israel-Hamas, showing the very different coalitions supporting each of the major candidates. Schiff has been an outspoken supporter of Israel and President Biden’s strategy in the region. Both Schiff and Garvey say the United States should continue military aid to Israel.

Both Lee and Porter support a ceasefire. Lee is against providing further military aid to Israel, and Porter has called for a robust discussion on military aid.

Schiff supporters were much more likely to approve of Biden’s response to the war than were supporters of Garvey or Lee. Porter’s supporters were divided in their feelings about Biden’s diplomatic response in the aftermath of Hamas in October. 7 massacres in Israel.

About 8 in 10 Garvey supporters were more sympathetic to Israel than the Palestinians, while Lee supporters were more than 2 to 1 sympathetic to the Palestinians.

About half of Schiff supporters and 40% of Porter supporters said they were equally sympathetic to both sides of the conflict.

The coalitions supporting each candidate have shifted somewhat in recent months.

Porter continues to receive the most support from voters under 50 and from those who identify as strongly liberal. Schiff leads with voters 65 and older and those who identify as somewhat liberal. Schiff and Porter were effectively tied to voters who identified as Democrats in October. Now Schiff leads by 10 percentage points among that very large voting bloc.

Lee, one of three Black members of Congress from California, led among Black voters statewide but is now essentially tied with Schiff, who leads among Asian American/Pacific Islander voters and white voters. Schiff and Porter are essentially tied among Latino voters.

A big unknown is how voters will respond to the barrage of television advertising that is about to begin in the state.

It’s hard to judge the true political strength of any candidate in California until they start running TV ads, said Republican strategist Mike Murphy, who told Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign team.

Porter will soon turn on her TV. The ship will be right behind her in a few days. She probably has more, but she has more charisma. So there’s a little more rocket fuel if she catches on, Murphy said.

The Democratic campaigns are obsessed with Garvey. It’s not because they care [Garvey winning in] November. If he comes in second, Schiff has just won the lottery.

Both Porter and Schiff this week began or will begin airing ads on cable and television in the Bay Area-San Jose and Oakland markets.

Schiff’s ad focuses on some of his achievements in Congress. Porter’s ad focuses on how she plans to shake up the Senate by banning earmarks, abolishing the filibuster and banning senators from trading individual stocks, among other measures.

A spokesperson for Schiff said the campaign had put more than $700,000 into the ad, while the Porter campaign told the San Francisco Chronicle it had made a seven-figure ad buy.

Schiff has a significant financial advantage over its competitors. Last week, his campaign revealed that it had $35 million available after its last fundraising quarter, as of the end of the year.

Porter had about $12 million on hand through the end of September, according to campaign disclosures. Lee continued to lag behind by $1.3 million through September, the documents show.

The Berkeley IGS poll surveyed 4,470 registered voters in California who were likely to participate in the March primary. The survey was conducted online from January 4 to 8 in English and Spanish.

The results are weighted to match census and voter registration benchmarks, so margin of error estimates may be inaccurate; however, the results for the likely voter sample have an estimated margin of error of 2 percentage points in either direction.


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