When appointed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom Senator Laphonza Butler to replace the late Senator Dianne Feinstein in early October, I wrote in these pages that Butler’s appointment would likely create a “messy” 2024 California Senate primary, and less than two months. before the primary, all signs pointed to a fiercely competitive, potentially ‘upsetting’ race in the nation’s largest state.
Almost all recent polls show that current US Representative Adam Schiff, a 12-term Congressman endorsed by Democratic establishment figures like Rep. Nancy Pelosi, is is the leader of the field, while the battle for second place in the top-two primary is almost tied between current US Rep. Kate Porter and former Los Angeles Dodgers player Steve Garvey.
Schiff is leading an increasingly crowded field—27 candidates will appear on the ballot in March—with just over a fifth (21%) of the vote. Porter (17%) and Garvey (13%) round out the top three, according to a recent poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times and the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies. Factoring in the poll’s +/- 2% margin of error, it’s a very close race between Porter and Garvey for second.
With that in mind, Progressive US Rep. Barbara Lee doesn’t count, despite her fourth-place finish in the aforementioned LA Times/Berkeley poll.
Last month, Porter and Lee were tied for third place in a separate poll conducted by Politico/Morning Consult, which showed Porter at 17% and Lee at 14%, essentially a tie given the poll, which is +/- 3% margin of error. Notably, Politico/Morning Consult included “leaners”—those who were initially undecided but were thinking about supporting a particular candidate, which helped push Garvey (19%) into second place.
In addition, just this Wednesday, Lee won the endorsement of California newspapers under the McClatchy umbrella, and even without the financial support that Schiff and Porter have, Lee has a slim chance of coming in second place in deep blue California.
To that point, Lee has shown himself to be a standout on a hot-button topic on which the candidates diverge: the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. While Schiff is fully behind President Biden’s opposition to a ceasefire and Porter recently made a subtle shift to support a “bilateral ceasefire,” Lee began his calls for a ceasefire on October 8, before Israel began its ground operation. in Gaza, and has been a vocal opponent of US aid to Israel.
Whether Lee’s staunch opposition to military retaliation against Israel will play a significant role in the March primary depends on the course of the war, but it’s worth noting that nearly 6 in 10 (59%) likely primary voters in California believe that the US is doing the right amount to help our allies (40%) or not enough (19%), according to the Politico/Morning Consult poll.
An interesting candidate to watch between now and the primary is Steve Garvey, a Republican who ran a remarkably minimalist campaign but has widespread name recognition from nearly two decades of playing for the Dodgers and Padres.
According to the LA Times/UC Berkeley poll, if supporters of the other GOP candidates rallied around Garvey, not only would he have enough votes to finish in the top two, but given the lopsided Democratic vote, he may end up as the top vote-getter.
If Garvey finishes in the top spot, or the top two, despite the lopsided general election any California Republican faces, it would be a coup for the state’s GOP, which has long been disadvantaged in California because of California’s strong blue nature.
Given the long odds that Garvey, or any other Republican, would face in a general election, the California Senate election would likely come down to Schiff, Porter, or even Lee, as any Democrat would. which comes out has many advantages in November.
In addition, due to California’s primary system—a primary for candidates from both parties—Garvey’s strong performance in the polls has the potential to cause a messy intraparty fight between Porter and Lee for second place.
To that end, Schiff seems well-positioned to emerge as the leading Democrat in the race, whether Garvey sneaks into November or not. Schiff leads Porter by 10 points among registered Democrats (35% to 25%) and leads Lee by more than a 2-1 margin, 35% to 14%, per the LA Times/UC Berkeley poll.
Moreover, Schiff’s advantage among older voters—often the most likely to vote—is strong. He leads Porter by 4 points among voters aged 50–64 (20% to 16%) and has a commanding 19-point lead (32% to 13%) among voters 65 years of age or older.
In terms of the Democrats’ fight for second place, Lee appears to be at a significant disadvantage, despite McClatchy’s endorsement. Among voters who consider themselves’strongly liberal’, according to Lee, he trails Porter by 35% to 17%.
All in all, Schiff seems poised to take at least one of the top two spots because of his leadership in the rest of the field, so all eyes should be on a potentially messy fight between Reps. Porter and Lee, both had to consolidate their support and tried to expand their support, probably at the expense of each other,
Whether or not Porter can hold on to his second place largely depends on whether California Republicans rally around Garvey, as well as whether or not Lee’s presence eats into Porter’s support on the left side of the Democratic Party.
And make no mistake, the presence of a popular Republican who still leads Schiff in several regions of California, including Orange County (20% to 12%) and the San Joaquin Valley (22% to 19%), will add pressure on Porter and Lee.
Finally, with almost six weeks left until the primary, the real race is the fight for second, where the two sitting US Representatives from the same party will be forced to compete against each other in an intraparty fight if they hope to retain a Republican challenger. from the top two.