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California Senate race results could hold some surprises on Super Tuesday

Washington — Despite its nickname, the Golden State is perennially deep blue when it comes to politics. But this year, California could go partially red.

In the race to win the Senate seat once held by the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Republican Senate candidate and ex-Major League Baseball all-star Steve Garvey has stepped up to bat against Democratic front-runner Rep. Adam Schiff, with both candidates locked in a statistical tie heading into Super Tuesday. 

California has what’s known as a jungle primary, in which the top two vote-getters regardless of party advance to the general election in November. A Republican has not been elected to a U.S. Senate seat in the state since 1988.

“We feel we’ve run a great campaign and we’re going to continue fighting hard as if we’re in last place,” Schiff said in an interview with CBS News. “We’re taking nothing for granted.”

Rep. Adam Schiff after casting his ballot in Burbank, California, on Super Tuesday, March 5, 2024.
Rep. Adam Schiff after casting his ballot in Burbank, California, on Super Tuesday, March 5, 2024.

ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images


A UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll released ahead of Super Tuesday showed 27% of likely voters supporting Garvey, 25% backing Schiff, 19% for Rep. Katie Porter and 8% for Rep. Barbara Lee. Nine percent were undecided.

“This demonstrates that our message of addressing the real issues that Californians care about with compassionate, common-sense solutions is resonating more than the tired political bickering of career politicians,” Garvey said in a statement. “It’s clear that people are ready for new leadership that brings us together to build a brighter future for California.”

The 75-year-old Republican and former Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres first baseman has steadily climbed in the polls, despite stumbling in some debate performances. Schiff, a 12-term congressman from Burbank, rose to national prominence as a House impeachment manager during former President Donald Trump’s first Senate trial. The 66-year-old lawmaker is endorsed by former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and more than 80% of California’s Democratic congressional delegation.   

Steve Garvey, a Senate candidate in California, speaks to the media on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024.
Steve Garvey, a Senate candidate in California, speaks to the media on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024.

David Crane/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images


“This is in some ways a race between someone who can get results and others that have good rhetoric but don’t have a long track record of getting things done,” Schiff said.

Porter, a protege of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren who flipped a swing district in Orange County, is a 50-year-old minivan-driving single mother known for her tough questioning and use of whiteboards during congressional hearings. She accused Schiff and allied Super PACs of propping up Garvey with millions of dollars in ads to squeeze her and Lee out of the race, calling it “a gigantic gift to the Republican Party.”

“It’s the result of, you know, 20-plus million dollars being spent to engage voters on a Republican candidate,” Porter told CBS News. 

“[Schiff] is knocking out a qualified Democrat. I am not. His whole goal is to eliminate two Democrats from being on the ballot,” she continued. “That is the very kind of cynical play that makes voters feel like everything in Washington is controlled by those who already have the power.” 

Schiff, who has raised $31.4 million for his Senate bid, countered that he is merely contrasting his record with Garvey on the issues. 

“Look, Representative Porter has run the same type of ads, so I don’t think she can criticize,” Schiff quipped. “Nevertheless, we’re running a hard campaign. Distinguishing my record on crime, on immigration, on abortion, on guns and on many other issues with Steve Garvey has been very much part of our campaign.”

Rep. Katie Porter speaks to the media at a polling place in Irvine, California, on Saturday, March 2, 2024.
Rep. Katie Porter, a Democratic candidate for Senate, speaks to the media at a polling place in Irvine, California, on Saturday, March 2, 2024.

Mark Rightmire/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images


Facing the political novice and former baseball player in the fall could put Schiff on a glide path to the Senate seat. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the state and make up nearly half of all registered voters, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

Lee, who has represented Oakland and the East Bay in Congress for more than 25 years, is staying out of it. 

“You’ve seen some of the ads and some of the sinister kinds of strategies but I don’t engage in that kind of political gamesmanship,” Lee told CBS News. “I don’t know what [Schiff’s] trying to do. I just see these ads on television. Actually I’m in one of them. And I know how expensive these ads are and I haven’t paid for it.” 

For her part, Lee points to her record staking out tough positions, from calls for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas to her lone vote opposing the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. She has the backing of Hollywood A-listers like Stevie Wonder and Danny Glover as well as grassroots groups like Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution. Lee hopes to drive turnout among young progressives in her bid to diversify the upper chamber. 

“This is a multi-racial, multi-generational progressive coalition,” Lee said. “Representation matters. Since 1789, only three Black women in the Senate have served, [for] a total of 10 years. So I want to strengthen our democracy by adding a perspective that has been missing.” 

Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democratic Senate candidate in California, visits the Los Angeles Times in El Segundo on Nov. 28, 2023.
Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democratic Senate candidate in California, visits the Los Angeles Times in El Segundo on Nov. 28, 2023.

Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images


Incumbent Sen. Laphonza Butler is currently the only Black woman in the upper chamber. She was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom following Feinstein’s death last September. Butler, a former Emily’s List executive, told CBS News she has no regrets about sitting out the race. 

“Choosing to be a U.S. senator is, I think, an incredible honor,” she said. “And running in any race is not only an opportunity to serve but a real sacrifice.”

Californians have to vote twice on Tuesday’s ballot: once to elect a candidate to serve out the rest of Feinstein’s term through early 2025, and again for a candidate to serve a full six-year term through 2031.

Each of the Democratic candidates said they hope to carry on the late senator’s legacy if elected, in a race that has largely centered around the economy, affordable housing, immigration and other key issues. 

“Sen. Feinstein was a trailblazer for electing women and a trailblazer on being willing to show political courage on issues like gun violence prevention, and so those are both things that I would want to take from her,” Porter explained. 

“She was also someone who was able to work with people up and down the state, paid attention to every part of the state, rolled up her sleeves and got things done,” Schiff said. “That’s a really good model for any California senator.” 

Lee, 77, described a “powerful” conversation she had with Feinstein before she announced her retirement and reflected on her ability to care for people “on a personal level.”

“There may or may not have been some issues we didn’t see eye to eye on but I don’t think that’s the point,” Lee recalled. “I think the point is she led on so many issues. She was quite a brilliant changemaker.”

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