California US Senate Race: What to Expect on March 5

Photo by Brandon Starr on Flickr
Created: 14 February, 2024
8 min read

Photo Credit: Brandon Starr / Flickr


The California primaries are coming up fast. On March 5, Super Tuesday, Californians will go to the polls, but while much of the nation's attention will be on the presidential contest, voters will participate in nonpartisan primaries for all non-presidential races in the state.

Including, for US Senate. The 2024 cycle marks the first full-term election for the late US Sen. Dianne Feinstein's seat, which was temporarily filled by appointed Democrat Laphonza Butler

The March 5 primary will also include an additional contest to elect a candidate who will fill the seat for two months of the current Senate term, which ends on January 3, 2025. There are 27 names on the ballot in the full-term contest.

The leading and most high-profile candidates in the race -- Democratic US Rep. Adam Schiff, former professional baseball player Steve Garvey (Republican), Democratic US Rep. Katie Porter, and Democratic US Rep. Barbaraa Lee -- are running in both contests.

At the beginning of February, Schiff had a commanding lead in the polls with 25% support among likely voters. The March 5 primary appears to be more of a race for second place in which Garvey and Porter are neck-and-neck.

Polls show Lee is trailing the top contenders for the seat, while every other candidate that will appear on the ballot is sitting at 1% or less.

Under California's nonpartisan top-two primary system, all candidates and voters participate on a single ballot and the top two vote-getters move on to the general election, regardless of party. This means all voters have an opportunity to express their choice in the race.

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The top-two system can result in two candidates of the same party advancing to the general election. In statewide contests, if a primary does not produce a Democrat v. Republican contest in November, it will produce a Democrat v. Democrat contest in California.

In a presidential election year in which Joe Biden will likely win California by 3-4 million votes, it is safe to assume a Democrat in the US Senate race will beat a Republican by the same margin.

A situation in which two candidates of the same party advance to the general election would be decided by voters outside the party. In this case, Republicans, independents, and third-party voters, 

The system levels the playing field for voters in taxpayer-funded elections. However, when candidates see an opportunity for political gamesmanship, they will often seize it -- something Californians are seeing in the US Senate race.

Schiff's campaign has run TV ads that treat Garvey as his main competitor. He has touted the Republican's conservativism and record voting for Donald Trump -- essentially paying for TV time Garvey could not afford himself.

In the second Senate debate, Schiff primary focused his attention on Garvey. CalMatters reports:

"As CalMatters politics reporter Yue Stella Yu recounts, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, in first place in the polls, continued going after Republican Steve Garvey. Asked about crime, Schiff said he was a prosecutor while Garvey was still playing baseball. On homelessness, Schiff blasted Garvey for refusing to support anything beyond 'poverty wages.'"

Porter, who is the most likely Democrat to face Schiff in the general election, has called the tactic "cynical" and accused Schiff of "furthering his own political career, boxing out qualified Democratic women candidates, and boosting a Republican candidate to do it."

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It is the most advantageous strategy for Schiff to turn out Republican and conservative voters to support Garvey. A general election against Porter would be far more competitive and according to at least one poll featured on 538, the race may not go in Schiff's favor. 

Here are the candidate statements for each candidate, according to the California secretary of state's voter guide:

Adam Schiff

"Adam Schiff has always taken on the toughest fights to get things done for California. He’s running for the U.S. Senate to continue delivering real results for Californians— making housing more affordable, lowering costs, protecting the planet, protecting abortion access, and building an economy that works for everyone, especially working families. From the courtroom to Congress, Adam took on the biggest bullies—drug companies, polluters, and drug cartels—and won. He has passed dozens of laws to lower prescription drug costs, expand public transit, create jobs, get people of the street, build the earthquake early warning system, and establish California’s Patients Bill of Rights. And when our democracy was under assault by a dangerous president, Adam investigated, impeached and held him accountable for insurrection to protect our rights and freedoms, which are still under threat. Adam has a real record of results because he’s willing to work with anyone to get things done—Democrats, Republicans and Independents. That’s why hundreds of California elected officials and nine statewide labor unions have endorsed Adam’s campaign. They know he’ll always stand up for working families, and against special interests. Adam grew up in the Bay Area, working summers in his dad’s lumber yard and as a seasonal firefighter to help pay for school. After law school, he settled in Southern California. Adam has been married to Eve (yes, they’ve heard all the jokes) for 28 years. They have two wonderful kids, Lexi and Eli. Visit www.AdamSchif.com to learn more."

Steve Garvey

"From the moment I came to California 50 years ago, it was home. For 20 years, I played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres. When I took the field, I played for all the fans. Everyone was equal. Politics, race, sexual orientation, gender, and background didn’t divide us—they brought us together. California used to be the heartbeat of America, now it’s just a murmur. Today, career politicians put special interests ahead of you and your family’s well-being. Instead of housing, we have out-of-control homelessness. Instead of safe neighborhoods, there’s violent crime. Instead of affordability, we have record inflation, and too many Californians can’t afford rent, groceries, and gas. That’s not the California we love. You deserve better, your family deserves better, so let’s work together. I am getting back in the game to fight for you and our state. I will bring a fresh perspective to Washington D.C. I will be your voice, choosing common sense over tired old politics. We will reduce homelessness by addressing mental health, drug addiction, and housing affordability. We will work with law enforcement to make our neighborhoods safe, protect our schools, and hold criminals responsible. We will lower inflation, so every dollar goes towards supporting your family. We will provide our children with the best education. Politicians have failed us. I won’t. When Californians join together, anything is possible. I lived my dream, and you deserve to live yours. As your Senator, I will fight for your and California’s future."

Katie Porter

"In Washington, powerful special interests have too much control, while Congress bogs down with endless partisan battles. The result? California’s real challenges, from affordable housing to the climate crisis, don’t get solved. They’re ignored or made even worse. After years of speaking truth to power as a consumer protection attorney, I was elected to Congress in 2018. I don’t “do Congress” like lifelong politicians and Washington insiders. I’m running to be your U.S. Senator to unrig the system. I’m one of the few in Congress who has never taken corporate PAC money—not one penny. I’m one of just 11 out of 435 Members of Congress who refuse campaign contributions from federal lobbyists. Instead, I’m leading the fight to ban Members of Congress from trading stocks. Whether it’s Big Banks, Big Pharma, or Big Oil, I won’t stand for corporate special interests lying to or ripping of Californians. I call them out and hold them accountable. I’ve been called “a watchdog,” “the leadership we desperately need,” and “Congress’ toughest questioner.” Often using a whiteboard, I’ve successfully exposed corporate greed and cut through bureaucratic doublespeak to deliver results. I’m a single mom of three kids attending California public schools. As Senator, my priorities will be yours: Making life in California more affordable. Reducing housing costs. Combating climate change. Protecting reproductive rights. And ensuring good, high-paying California jobs. Learn more at KatiePorter.com. Let’s shake up the Senate and solve our real problems. I’d be honored to earn your vote."

Barbara Lee

"Californians are struggling. Now more than ever, you deserve an experienced Senator who has delivered real progressive change. As a teenager, I joined forces with the NAACP to integrate my female cheer squad at San Fernando High School. I escaped an abusive marriage and raised two sons on public assistance. With a graduate degree in social work, I opened a community mental health center to help those in need. As a legislator and Congresswoman, I increased penalties on people who block access to abortion clinics, and wrote California’s first Violence Against Women Act. I expanded afordable housing and childcare, and fought to lift families out of poverty. I secured billions for HIV/AIDS that has saved 25 million lives around the world. I fought against voter suppression measures and, as lead plaintif in the NAACP’s lawsuit, I held Trump accountable for the January 6th riots. I was the only member of Congress to vote against the war in Afghanistan, the only candidate in this race to vote against the Iraq War, and the first to call for a ceasefire in the Middle East. I understand the struggles Californians face because I’ve lived them too. That’s why I’ll fight to protect reproductive freedom, deliver afordable housing and middle-class tax cuts, combat the climate crisis, and fight to protect our democracy. As a Black woman and accomplished legislator, I’ll bring a much-needed voice to the Senate. Your fight will be my fight, and we will win together. Thank you for your consideration and your vote."

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