Click on above image to watch ad.
By Jim Ellis — Monday, Feb. 26, 2024
Senate Ad Campaign: Schiff, Porter Promote GOP Opponents — The California US Senate primary campaign may become regarded as the most unique in American history. Due to the top-two jungle system that the state’s voters adopted in the 2010 ballot proposition, we now see the unusual situation of two Democratic US Senate candidates using their own campaign funds to help boost specific Republican opponents.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) from the beginning has led the open race in all jungle primary polling. In the past couple of weeks, he began airing ads to, in a backhanded way, help Republican baseball great Steve Garvey finish second behind him, thus setting up a traditional Democrat/Republican general election, a contest Schiff is virtually assured of winning.
Schiff began financing ads supposedly against Garvey, saying in effect that he is too conservative for California. The ad message is actually targeted for Republican voters. If they coalesce around Garvey to the point that he is elevated into second place ahead of fellow Democratic candidate Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine), and Porter is eliminated, Schiff’s road to the Senate after the March primary becomes much easier.
Porter herself is now adopting a similar strategy in hoping to elevate herself over Garvey, thus creating a highly competitive Democrat vs. Democrat general election. The most recent polls, however, suggest the Schiff strategy is working.
With the March 5 primary fast approaching, Emerson College surveyed the California electorate in a partnership with The Hill newspaper and the Inside California Politics blog (Feb. 16-18; 1,000 registered California voters; 935 likely jungle primary voters; multiple sampling techniques) and again found Rep. Schiff leading the open US Senate field, this time with 28 percent of the vote. In second place, and for the first time with a sizable advantage over the third-place finisher, is Garvey, with 22 percent. Following are Reps. Porter and Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) with 16 and nine percent, respectively.
Garvey raised only $610,000 through the end of 2023, which meant there was little way he could finance a major statewide media and digital buy. Therefore, Schiff is taking it upon himself to help Garvey by “attacking” him with the idea that Republican voters will respond and unite behind him.
Now Porter is getting into the act, seeing that the Schiff strategy is helping to move Garvey’s numbers. She launched short 15-second ads “attacking” Republican Eric Early, who has even less in the way of campaign resources than his partisan opponent. The ad script claims Early is “too MAGA for California,” and criticizes Garvey for not saying who he would support for president.
Porter’s target is the hardcore Trump voter who she hopes to peel away from Garvey in enough volume to allow her to slip into second place with her share of the state’s much larger left-of-center/Democratic base.
With President Joe Biden having virtually no opposition and his approval numbers, though in positive territory, still rather weak, it is possible we could see a lower Democratic primary turnout, and such an occurrence could also boost Garvey’s chances for second place.
In the 2022 election, just over 7 million people voted in the California jungle primary, and in the 2020 presidential primary election, the total turnout exceeded 8.3 million voters. Most believe the 2024 turnout will be under the state’s last presidential election primary turnout, the aforementioned 2020 statistics.
In the national presidential election, due to delegate selection, states must hold partisan primaries or caucuses. Therefore, the top two system is not in effect for nominating a presidential candidate. In 2020, 68 percent of the voters participated in the Democratic primary and 29 percent cast a Republican ballot.
If the Democratic participation rate becomes lower than 2020, and the Republican number slightly improves, then Garvey may well have a chance to finish second. With the larger number of Democratic candidates potentially further splitting perhaps a lower turnout base, then Republican hopes of qualifying a general election candidate grow.
Reps. Schiff and Porter are demonstrating a different way of campaigning in what is a rare primary structure, and thus possibly exposing one of the system’s flaws. Regardless of whether the Schiff and Porter campaign tactic is something the voters intended when they adopted the voting structure, at least one of the Democrats’ strategies may prove effective.
The outcome of this race is just one more point of interest to watch in what will be a very busy Super Tuesday primary night throughout the nation.