Mar 7, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Senate race in California leaves Democrats with bad blood

Katie Porter, Barbara Lee and Schiff

Porter, Lee and Schiff at a Senate candidate forum in October. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff secured himself an easy path to being California's next senator by propping up a Republican opponent, but the fallout from his campaign has left factions of the party deeply divided.

Why it matters: Schiff and Republican Steve Garvey topped California's open primary field for Senate this week, all but assuring that Schiff will win the general election in November.

  • Schiff and outside groups flooded the state with attack ads painting Garvey as too conservative, hoping to elevate the Republican with GOP voters to give Schiff an easier path to victory in the general election.
  • Two candidates to the left of Schiff — Reps. Katie Porter and Barbara Lee — are now criticizing the presumptive next senator from California for the campaign tactic.

The intrigue: Porter went as far as to claim billionaires helped "rig the election," drawing intense criticism from Democrats who have spent years warning about the dangers of that kind of rhetoric used by former President Trump.

  • Porter has yet to call to concede the race and congratulate Schiff, a source familiar with the campaign told Axios.

The big picture: Lee and Porter argue the Schiff victory has less to do with the strength of the progressive movement in the state and more to do with the power of the money that poured in against them.

  • "I wouldn't do something like that because, to me, it lacks integrity," Lee told Axios of the push to elevate Garvey.
  • Porter said during a speech at an election night event on Tuesday that Schiff spent "more to boost the Republican than promoting his own campaign."
  • Schiff brushed aside those criticisms, arguing to Fox 11 "one Democrat spending millions against another Democrat" is not a good idea.

The other side: Some Democrats have bashed Porter for saying the election was rigged, arguing the statements are irresponsible given the persistence of election denialism in the GOP.

  • Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) told Politico that the idea the election was rigged is "ridiculous."

What they're saying: Jarred Cuellar, assistant professor of political science at Cal Poly Pomona, said Schiff's decision to prop up Garvey was a critical element of the race.

  • "Schiff took his name recognition and his war chest, and he played smart politics," Cuellar said.

What's next: Schiff will face Garvey in the November general election, where he is very likely to be elected as California's next senator.

  • Schiff's election would mean the state will not be represented by a woman in the Senate for the first time in over 30 years.
  • Schiff and Garvey are running for the seat vacated by the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and currently held by Sen. Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.), who chose not to run.
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