In California’s Senate race, voters are sticking to what they know

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

In California’s Senate race, voters are sticking to what they know

California Politics, 2024 Elections

Mark Z. Barabak

March 6, 2024

Adam Schiff got the November opponent he wanted.

Steve Garvey was meant to be taken down.

And by the end of the year


California will most likely have a new U.S. senator in the form of its previous one, Dianne Feinstein, whose former seat Democrat Schiff is trying to fill.

Voters spoke Tuesday in the state’s major elections and what they said was: We’re sticking with what we know.

By choosing Schiff, a congressman from Burbank who was the most moderate of the major Democratic candidates and thus most similar to Feinstein, they rejected the leftward drift promised by two more liberal alternatives, Rep. Katie Porter

from Irvine

and Barbara Lee

of Oakland


By advancing Republican Garvey to the November general election, voters are setting up a conventional contest between candidates of opposing parties and philosophies, rather than an atypical Democrats-versus-Democrats runoff that revolves around personal temperament and differences in political degree .

And by elevating Garvey over Porter, they also effectively settled the battle for the Senate with eight months to go before the general election.

There are no certainties in life. The same goes for politics.

However, barring extraordinary circumstances, Schiff will be California’s next U.S. senator, taking over for Laphonza Butler, who was appointed to replace Feinstein after her death in September.

(A quick refresher: Under California’s election system, the top two primary candidates advance to the November general election, regardless of party. The winner will complete Feinstein’s term, ending in January, and then begin a full term of six years. Schiff is much happier facing Garvey than Porter, who would have been a much tougher opponent.)

Democrats enjoy a nearly 2-to-1 voter registration advantage in California, and all but those blinded by partisanship can see the gulf between Schiff and Garvey when it comes to political experience, knowledge and ability.

In his first bid for political office, Garvey has proven empty as a vacuum tube. His political views are listed by number and suggest equal consideration. The former Dodgers and Padres baseball star did not campaign, but stood still and waited for Republican voters to come his way.

His finish shouldn’t be a big surprise. Candidates with an “R” by their name can expect roughly 40% support in California’s general election, so it wasn’t difficult to muster enough support in the primaries to advance to November, especially with Schiff, Porter, Lee and some other candidates. others are fragmenting the Democratic vote.

With about half of the returns counted, Porter was in a distant third place, nearly double digits behind Garvey in the race for the full six-year term.

Lee, the most unapologetically liberal of the leading Democrats, never had much of a chance. Her appeal outside her deeply progressive congressional district of Oakland was always suspect, and her 77 years didn’t help, especially after Feinstein’s sad, prolonged decline made longevity an issue for many Democrats.

Of course, Garvey, who didn’t spend a dime on TV advertising, benefited enormously from the tens of millions that Schiff and his allies spent promoting his candidacy. Garvey was too MAGA and too conservative for California, Schiff’s ads claimed, which was catnip to the GOP base, which didn’t seem to mind Garvey’s 75-year-old rookie status. The tactic was a way for Schiff, 63, to favor his opponent, prompting much hand-wringing and commentary.

Much of it was overwrought.

Elections are about winning, within legal and certain moral boundaries, and not according to some imaginary set of rules that dictate niceness or sportsmanship. Porter fiercely objectified when Schiff began including Garvey in his advertisements. When Garvey subsequently began to rise in the polls, Porter tried the same tactic by promoting a lesser-known Republican, Eric Early, in hopes of splitting the Republican vote.

So much for holding on to the high ground.

You may not like the machinations, but Schiff did not fabricate Garvey’s party affiliation or position on issues. The votes Garvey received were entirely legitimate and reflect the views of a not insignificant part of the electorate.

California has 5 million registered Republicans, a number that exceeds the population of 28 states. While it’s easy to overlook them, especially for Democrats and their supporters, many Republican faithful are likely happy to have someone to vote for who represents their party, rather than having to choose a least-worst Democrat .

Potential successors circled Feinstein’s Senate seat for years, convinced that time would inexorably force her departure. To her credit, Porter ended the shadow campaign by declaring her candidacy weeks before Feinstein announced plans to step down after her sixth term. (She died in office seven months later.)

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Porter, 50, was asked about Schiff’s frequent invocation of the late senator, who likely would have preferred the more moderate, less confrontational Schiff as her successor.

The bitter response from Orange County lawmaker Senator Feinstein, as you know, is dead and cannot be supported from the grave is beyond question. Moreover, the choice was not Feinstein’s, even if she were still alive.

The choice was up to California voters, and by leading Schiff to November and a presumed victory over Garvey, they showed that Feinstein’s center-left ideology, studious demeanor and results-oriented approach to governing have not lost their appeal, even if the outcome contradict that. stereotype of the state as a mad country of flaming liberalism.

The center, or what passes for it in California, had the upper hand.


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