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California Senate race: Democrats aim to block Republican from contest to fill Feinstein’s seat

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Several prominent House Democrats are jostling to fend off Republican former baseball great Steve Garvey in the yearlong battle to fill the U.S. Senate seat once held by the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein, with two slots on California’s November ballot at stake.

In a state where a Republican hasn’t won a Senate race since 1988, Democrats are expected to easily hold the seat in November, a relief for the party as it seeks to defend a fragile Senate majority. But first-time candidate Garvey, a National League MVP and former star for the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, reordered the contest that also features Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff.

California puts all candidates, regardless of party, on one primary ballot, and the two who get the most votes advance to the general election. For months, Schiff has had the fundraising and polling edge, but it’s possible Garvey could claim the second spot on the November ballot, ending the congressional careers of Porter and Lee, two prominent progressives.

It would be a blow in particular to Porter, whose 2018 upset win was among Democratic breakthroughs in Orange County, once a Republican stronghold.

“Polls are predicting we’re going to lose and my time in Congress will come to an end for good,” Porter wrote in a fundraising plea in the election’s final days.

The potential for a historically low turnout — in a year headlined by a likely presidential rematch that many Americans are dreading — could help lift Garvey’s chances since the state’s most reliable voters tend to be older, white, conservative-leaning homeowners.

But he would still be a long shot in November. Registered Democrats hold a 2-to-1 advantage over Republicans in California, and the last GOP candidate to win a statewide race was nearly two decades ago, in 2006.

Feinstein held the seat for three decades, and the campaign to fill the seat represents a new era in California politics. Even before she announced in early 2023 that she would not seek reelection, ambitious Democrats were jockeying for a chance at the coveted spot. Her death in September threatened to turn the race on its head when Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed longtime Democratic operative Laphonza Butler to the seat, but Butler has opted not to run for the full term.

Schiff gained national attention as a chief antagonist to former President Donald Trump during the Republican’s years in the White House. He was a leading voice during Trump’s two impeachments, prompting House Republicans to take the extraordinary step of censuring him after they gained control of the chamber.

That only deepened his appeal in the Democratic stronghold of California, helping Schiff become a favorite of the party’s establishment with endorsements from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, most of California’s congressional delegation and former Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.

With that high-powered support, Schiff was a fundraising powerhouse, an important advantage in a state with some of the nation’s most expensive media markets.

Porter, who presents herself as a suburban soccer mom out to protect the middle class, has drawn national attention on social media with her sharp questioning of tech CEOs in Capitol Hill hearings.

Garvey’s candidacy, buoyed by name recognition among older voters who recall his baseball days, threw an unexpected twist into the race. The dynamic between Schiff and Porter grew increasingly tense in the campaign’s closing weeks as both vied for a general election spot.

Porter’s campaign has accused Schiff and his supporters of running ads intentionally spotlighting Garvey to lift the former baseball star’s profile with Republicans, on the premise that having a GOP opponent would presumably be an easier match for Schiff in the fall. Schiff has defended the ads, saying Garvey attacked him in debates and interviews and he was “not going to ignore him.”

Michael R. Blood, The Associated Press


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