California’s top two primaries are putting twists in the Senate race


California’s top two primaries are putting twists in the Senate race

California Politics, 2024 Elections

George Skelton

February 26, 2024

Next week’s primaries will determine whether California voters will now essentially elect a new U.S. senator or continue the competition into November.

That’s because of California’s anomalous open primary system: the top two candidates who win the most votes, regardless of party, advance to the November elections.

If it’s a Democrat and a Republican making progress, that means the Democrat has all but captured the late Senator Dianne Feinstein’s seat for 30 years. It’s all over except the victory speech. There will still be a showdown in November, but it will be a name battle only.

Candidates will simply go through the motions: the Republican with hardly any money from political investors and the Democrat with campaign money to spare and a 2-to-1 voter registration advantage.

No Republican has won a statewide Democratic race


in California since 2006. And no one in this Senate field has a slim chance. There is no Arnold Schwarzenegger or Ronald Reagan anywhere in sight for the California Republican Party.

But if voters send two Democrats to the general election, there will be eight more months of fierce competition through Nov. 5 during which voters can watch, listen and vote in a real contest.

What does it matter?

True competition would give voters much more time to weigh the qualifications and policy positions of two candidates, rather than simply voting for the party line, as has become the custom in California and across polarized America.

Many Democratic pros, however, would prefer to wrap up the contest next week and save tens of millions of dollars. Instead of pouring that campaign money into a Senate race that some Democrat is guaranteed to win anyway, the money could be spent on a close congressional election that will help determine which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives.

The consistent leader in polling and fundraising is Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff, 63, of Burbank, the undisputed frontrunner. It would be shocking if he didn’t finish first in the primaries and qualify for the November election.

The battle for No. 2 was a sticking point between Democratic Rep. Katie Porter, 50, of Irvine and Republican former baseball star Steve Garvey, 75.

Porter could become a tough competitor for fellow Democrat Schiff in the fall.

Garvey would be an easy strikeout. And it’s not just because he’s a Republican. He has also never previously held elective office or run in a political race. And his inexperience and policy vagueness have proven consistent.

Another Democrat, 77-year-old Barbara Lee of Oakland, is in fourth place, based on polls. And a second Republican, attorney and perennial candidate, Eric Early, 65, is running so far back he’s out of sight.

A poll of likely voters released last week by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California showed Schiff in the lead with 24%, followed by Porter and Garvey with a virtual tie of 19% and 18%, respectively. Lee was at 10% and Early at 4%.

Schiff showed particular strength among voters 45 and older, while Porter was favored by those younger than 45.

Porter and Lee split the Democratic female vote 26% for Porter and 17% for Lee. Schiff’s share was 34%, meaning more Democratic women sided with the two female candidates than the male ones, but split their votes.

Another poll released last week showed Garvey performing stronger. The Emerson College survey of likely voters showed Schiff with a 28% lead, while Garvey was significantly ahead of Porter, 22% to 16%. Lee was at 9%.

That poll showed independent voters split almost evenly between Garvey and Schiff.

Our top two primary system has led to cynical advertising tactics from Schiff and now Porter. Schiff started it and Porter complained. Then she adopted the stinking strategy herself.

Schiff has been running TV ads for weeks apparently attacking Garvey for being a two-time Donald Trump elector who could bring the Senate under Republican control. Schiff’s goal is to build Garvey’s support among Republicans so he can defeat Porter for the number one spot. 2 place.

Porter eventually responded by posting an online ad designed to win early MAGA votes from Garvey. In her place, Early proudly stands behind Trump, while Garvey refuses to say who he will vote for in the presidential election. He might even vote for Joe Biden.

To their credit, the four major candidates debated on television three times, shedding some light on their policy positions.

In their final debate last week, all four contenders said they would have voted against the bipartisan border package that was backed by President Biden but blocked by Senate Republicans at Trump’s request. Trump wants to use the border crisis as a campaign issue.

Schiff called the compromise lopsidedly conservative and noted that California Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla opposed it. Porter said it demonized immigrants. Lee, the most liberal candidate, opposed the bill from the start. Garvey said too many things [were] packed in it.

During the debates, Porter continued her crusade against earmarks


Congress’s underhanded practice of sending money to local pet projects, perhaps in exchange for a key vote. Porter insisted that he would corrupt. Schiff and Lee countered that it’s a great way to deliver goods like bridges, irrigation canals and parks to local voters. They are right.

I take so much home with me [project] money if I can, Lee promised.

This is a race with twists and turns.

One twist: A vote in the primaries for Garvey or Lee likely helps Schiff. Another: A vote for Early helps Porter.

It’s true, but somehow it doesn’t seem right.


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