The tenor of Monday night’s first face-to-face debate among the four leading candidates for the U.S. Senate was dictated, in effect, by their standings in pre-election polls.
Six weeks out from the March 5 primary election – and only a couple of weeks until mail ballots can be cast – Adam Schiff, a Democratic congressman from Burbank, is the clear leader and very likely will finish first for a spot on the November election.
The real battle is for second place and thus the other position on the ballot eight months hence under California’s top-two system.
Katie Porter, a Democratic congresswoman from Irvine, seemed destined for a second-place primary finish until Republican Steve Garvey, a former star baseball player, jumped into the contest. Polls indicate that Porter and Garvey are in a dead heat for second place with Barbara Lee, a Democratic member of Congress from Oakland, trailing the field.
Schiff Would Love to See Garvey Finish Second
Schiff would be quite pleased if Garvey finished second, a distinct possibility with Democrats divvying their party’s vote. Having Garvey as a November rival would make Schiff a prohibitive favorite to win the seat, given the Democrats’ very lopsided voter advantage.
Were Porter or Lee to finish second in the primary, the November runoff would be far more competitive, mirroring the complex struggle for dominance between their party’s progressive left and its professional political class. Schiff enjoys support from the party regulars, such as former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while Porter portrays herself as a progressive advocate of curbing corporate influence in Washington.
Democrats Split on War in Gaza
The war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, which touched off when the militant group staged a deadly raid on Israel in October, is one of the flashpoints between the two wings of the Democratic Party, and was very evident on Monday.
Lee, who is best known for her many votes against wars, was an early proponent of a ceasefire in Gaza, while Porter later endorsed that view. On the other hand, Schiff, who is Jewish, has been a steadfast supporter of Israel, said that Hamas cannot be allowed to control Gaza.
Schiff and Garvey were in sync on that divisive issue, with the latter saying, “I stand with Israel today and tomorrow.”
Notwithstanding the sharp division on Gaza among Democrats, other policy issues raised by the panel of questioners, such as abortion, homelessness and immigration, did not produce many differences. Mostly, they took turns ragging on Garvey about his previous support for ex-President Donald Trump and demanding that he declare whether he would vote for Trump again this year.
Garvey refused to take a position on Trump’s bid to return to the presidency, saying he would decide later.
“I’m my own man,” Garvey insisted. “I make my own decisions.”
“Once a Dodger, always a dodger,” Porter snapped at Garvey in one of several allusions to his former career as a baseball player.
Porter, hoping to claim a spot on the November ballot, did take a few potshots at frontrunner Schiff, saying he took “dirty money” from corporate interests while she refused it. Schiff retorted that he had spent some of that money getting Porter re-elected to Congress.
It’s doubtful that the debate itself, which was broadcast locally and online, would have a major influence on the March outcome, but its issues will be amplified in post-debate media drives.
The question still to be answered is whether Garvey will consolidate support among Republican voters, who are numerous enough to give him a second-place finish if the three Democrats’ shares of their party’s voters are more or less equal. If Garvey finishes second, the contest is decided for all intents.
About the Author
Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times. CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more columns by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.
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