Schiff wins California Senate primary and will likely next face Republican ex-Dodgers player

Adam Schiff, the centrist Democratic congressman, was declared the first-place winner in California’s US Senate primary race, and is likely to face off with Republican Steve Garvey, a former professional baseball player, in the November election.

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The pro-Israel Democrat was called the winner by the Associated Press soon after the polls closed, earning 37% of the votes with 23% of votes counted. Garvey was in second place with 27% of votes counted so far.

The primary broke records as the most expensive senate race in California.

Schiff’s campaign is widely seen as having engineered Garvey’s strong primary performance by spending millions of dollars to air ads attacking the inexperienced Republican candidate, thus elevating his name recognition among Republican voters in a way the Garvey campaign itself was not able to afford.

Schiff appeared on track to box out his two more progressive competitors, the Orange County congresswoman Katie Porter and the Bay Area congresswoman Barbara Lee. Neither of them are expected to return to Congress next year, after choosing to compete in the Senate race rather than run for re-election in their house districts.

Lee, a longtime progressive, had called for a ceasefire in Gaza in October 2023. Porter broke with the Biden administration in December to call for a “bilateral ceasefire”.

Schiff, in contrast, has shown continuing support for Israel’s military offensive in Gaza and has refused to call for a ceasefire, a position that has sparked protests by some young progressive California Democrats.

Polls showed Porter, a nationally prominent consumer advocate known for grilling CEOs with the help of her trademark whiteboard, would have been a strong competitor against Schiff in a two-Democrat race.

In early polls, Porter had been coming in second after Schiff, with Lee trailing behind, until growing support for Garvey pushed Porter into third place.

Porter denounced the Schiff campaign’s ads targeting Garvey in early February, writing Schiff was “playing cynical, anti-democratic political games to avoid a competitive election in November” and that “voters deserve better”.

But the tactic appears to have worked. If Garvey advances to the general election, he’d have little chance of winning; the last time a Republican won a statewide seat in California was in 2006. Facing off in the runoff with an inexperienced Republican candidate in a majority-Democratic state would likely see Schiff cruise to victory in November.

Schiff was the Senate frontrunner throughout the California senate primary, thanks to his fundraising prowess, and a public profile burnished by his prominent roles in the first impeachment of Donald Trump and the investigation of the January 6 insurrection.

In all, at least $65.3m was spent on advertisements in the Senate primary battle, a record-breaking amount more than the last three senate races combined, Politico reported, citing data from AdImpact, a political ad-tracking service.

Porter’s campaign was also targeted in the race’s last month by $10m in attack ads from a super PAC funded by the cryptocurrency industry.

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