Schiff, Garvey advance to general election in California’s Senate primary

Democrat Adam Schiff and Republican Steve Garvey will advance to the November general election in the U.S. Senate race to replace the late Dianne Feinstein in California after an expensive contest that pitted three of the state’s most prominent Democrats against one another.

Schiff, who became a hero to many Democratic voters when he led the first impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump, easily notched one of the general election slots after spending more than $39 million and locking down the support of much of the state’s Democratic establishment, including former House speaker Nancy Pelosi. Under California’s jungle primary system, the top two vote-getters in Tuesday’s election advanced to the general election regardless of party.

The race took an unpredictable turn in the final weeks when Schiff and his allies spent more than $11 million on ads that elevated the profile of Garvey, who played first base for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres in the 1970s and 1980s. Facing millions of dollars in spending against her, Rep. Katie Porter slid into third in some polls behind Schiff and Garvey.

Turnout was low leading up to Election Day based on the number of ballots that had been returned in key counties, and officials will accept ballots that are postmarked on Election Day as long as they are received within seven days, so it could be a while before the tallies are final.

In a state where Republicans compose less than a quarter of the electorate, Schiff’s campaign took advantage of the fact that Democratic voters were splitting their vote in the three-way race among him, Porter and Rep. Barbara Lee. His ads framing Garvey as a conservative Republican who had voted for Trump twice allowed the former baseball player to quickly consolidate GOP support without spending any of his own money on television ads.

Porter, a law professor who gained national prominence wielding her whiteboard and black marker as she interrogated corporate CEOs in congressional hearings, had long been expected to face Schiff in November. But Schiff’s allies viewed Garvey — who had barely campaigned or revealed details about his policy agenda — as a much weaker opponent in November.

On Tuesday night, Garvey argued that his campaign is being underestimated and that he would have broad appeal to California voters who are tired of dysfunction in Washington.

“My opponent has been advertising that he wants me,” Garvey said of Schiff. “He’s mistaking kindness for weakness. I would suggest that he keep in mind that old saying: Be careful what you ask for.”

“When I stepped on the field for the Dodgers and the Padres, I didn’t play for Democrats or Republicans or independents, I played for all the fans. And tonight, I am running for all the people,” Garvey said.

Since entering the race early last year, Schiff kept his focus on what he views as the threat to democracy posed by Trump. Largely ignoring his Democratic rivals, he argued that he had already proved his ability to take the fight to the former president in Washington after prosecuting the case against Trump during his first impeachment as well as the hearings investigating the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Schiff had difficulty getting through his speech Tuesday night — able to do little more than thank his supporters and key backers — because he was repeatedly interrupted by protesters calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.

But in a longer speech Monday night in Burbank as Trump is potentially just weeks away from clinching the number of delegates needed to win the GOP presidential nomination, Schiff argued that it is a “fragile time in our democracy.”

“Of all the corrosive things we’ve seen in the last several years, the most damaging to our democracy has been this relentless assault on the truth, because if we can’t agree on a very basic set of facts, on a shared experience, how are we to determine who should govern or what our policy should be?” Schiff said. “I know how worried people are about the fragility of our democracy. But I want to tell you tonight we’re going to get through this.”

He urged his supporters to reengage and vote not just for him, but also to return President Biden to the White House in November: “What we do in this moment will determine how quickly it passes and what we will leave to the next generation.”

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other surrogates also drove the theme that democracy is at stake in November. As he made the case for Schiff Monday night, Villaraigosa argued that integrity and character matter, but also “someone who puts the fear of God in those on the other side.”

Porter, who had fashioned her campaign around the idea that she would be a corruption-fighting “warrior” in the Senate, decried the millions of dollars of spending against her in the final phase of the campaign, including at least $9 million on ads from a super PAC backed by major players in the cryptocurrency industry.

She expressed her disappointment at the money spent to prevent her from advancing to the general election in her remarks Tuesday night.

Porter argued that many politicians in Washington are “more interested in being an elected official than actually doing anything to fix the problems that everyday people face.”

“That’s why special interests and billionaires spent close to $20 million attempting to keep me out of the Senate,” she said. “Special interests and the ultra wealthy, they like politics as it is today because they control the politicians. And like we’ve seen in this campaign, they spend millions to defeat someone who will dilute their influence and disrupt the status quo. I think we scared them.”

Though all of the state’s 22 million voters received a ballot in the mail, turnout was low leading up to Election Day based on the number of ballots that had been returned in key counties.

Only about 14 percent of ballots had been returned as of Tuesday, and a plurality was from voters who are 65 years and older, according to an analysis by the California-based firm Political Data. Older voters have tended to favor Schiff and Garvey, while younger voters have gravitated toward Porter and Lee.

A University of California at Berkeley poll demonstrated why Schiff would have preferred to face Garvey, as a far weaker opponent than Porter in November. In a hypothetical two-candidate race in November, Schiff led with 53 percent to Garvey’s 38 percent, with 9 percent undecided. But if the race had been Schiff and Porter, they would have been tied at the outset.

Several down-ballot House races in California are also likely to play a pivotal role in determining who controls the U.S. House, where Republicans have a three-seat majority.

In California’s 22nd District in the state’s Central Valley, Republican Rep. David G. Valadao is once again a top target of Democrats even though he has repeatedly defied the odds in his Democratic-leaning districts since entering Congress in 2013. Former state representative Rudy Salas, a Democrat, is once again challenging Valadao, but he is also facing Democratic state Sen. Melissa Hurtado. A fourth contender on the Republican side, rancher Chris Mathys, is also in the mix.

The four-way race has created a complex situation in which Salas and Hurtado could split the Democratic vote and allow the two Republicans — Valadao and Mathys — to advance to the general election. That scenario would make it much more difficult for Democrats to retake the House. House Majority PAC has spent nearly $1.4 million on ads in English and Spanish, according to AdImpact, to try to help Salas advance to the general election, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has also come to his aid.

Another key race is California’s 47th District, which Porter is vacating. In that crowded contest, Porter endorsed state Sen. Dave Min, who has engaged in a nasty intraparty struggle with attorney Joanna Weiss, backed by Emily’s List and California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis.

A super PAC affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has spent millions of dollars attacking Min in the Orange County district by drawing attention to his arrest on drunken driving charges last year.

In a digital ad, Min took issue with the legal work that Weiss’s husband has done for the Catholic Church. The ad charges that Weiss “made millions defending child molesters,” an allegation the campaign has said is false. Republican Scott Baugh, an Orange County business owner and former California Assembly member who ran against Porter in 2022, is also running for the seat.

Democrats are also keeping a close eye on California’s 27th District, where Mike Garcia is the last Republican House member standing in a Los Angeles County district that leans Democratic. The former Navy pilot is facing George Whitesides, the former chief of staff for NASA during the Obama administration and the former CEO of Virgin Galactic.

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