Poll: Porter, Schiff, still lead ‘wide open’ California Senate race, but Lee, Garvey make gains

Republican Garvey has gained ground since August.

A poll released Friday showed Southern California Reps. Katie Porter and Adam Schiff maintaining their lead in the race to replace the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the United States Senate, but fellow Democratic East Bay Rep. Barbara Lee and former Los Angeles Dodgers star and Republican Steve Garvey made gains in what remains a wide-open race.

According to the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, Irvine’s Porter is still at 17%, while her main rival Schiff of Burbank has dropped to 16%, a four-point drop since the organization’s last poll in August. Support for Lee, of Oakland, increased to 9%, while support for Garvey, who formally announced his candidacy on Oct. 10, fell to 10%. They both increased from 7% in the previous poll.

However, with 30% of voters — nearly one-third — still undecided, Berkeley IGS declared that the March 5 primary race, in which the top two finishers regardless of party will emerge to compete for the seat in November 2024, “remains a wide-open affair.”

“While Garvey’s candidacy seems to have made a splash among the state’s Republican voters, Porter and Schiff are still neck and neck at this point, and remain ahead of the rest of the field,” said G. Cristina Mora, co-director of the IGS.

Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Laphonza Butler, the executive director of an organization that promotes women candidates who support abortion rights, to serve the remainder of Feinstein’s term last month, fulfilling a promise to appoint a Black woman if the opportunity arose. Butler has announced that she will not run for re-election to a full term.

Lexie Reese, a Silicon Valley business executive, and Christina Pascucci, a Los Angeles TV reporter, are two other recent Democratic entrants who haven’t made much of an impression. According to IGS, both polled at 1%, with Reese’s figure remaining unchanged since August.

While the poll favors Garvey, the Republican field is dominated by the former first baseman, businessman James Bradley, and lawyer Eric Early. Bradley’s support has remained stable at 7%, while Early’s has fallen from 5% to 4% since August.

If Republican voters who are now supporting Bradley and Early rally behind Garvey, he could vault to the front of the Democrat-led pack. This could put a Republican in the November runoff, as happened in the 2022 race, when appointed Democratic incumbent Alex Padilla defeated the GOP’s unknown Mark Meuser.

With Republican support split, the November runoff will almost certainly be a Democrat-only contest, similar to Feinstein’s last re-election in 2018, when she defeated challenger Kevin de León, now a Los Angeles city councilman.

“As Californians become reacquainted with (Steve) Garvey and learn more about his common-sense, solution-oriented campaign to improve their lives, we believe this will become a race to beat Steve Garvey,” said Matt Shupe, a spokesperson for the Garvey campaign.

The Schiff campaign made no response to the poll. Despite the fact that the results show a setback for Schiff’s main rival Porter, he continues to dominate the field in fundraising and has secured key endorsements, including the new Democratic state Assembly Speaker, Robert Rivas of Salinas. Rep. Nancy Pelosi has also endorsed him.

Possibly most importantly. Schiff has raised a net $5.9 million in the third quarter, compared to $3.4 million for Porter and $1 million for Lee, and now has $32 million in campaign cash on hand, compared to $12 million for Porter and $1.3 million for Lee.

Garvey’s campaign reports are not yet available. Bradley had only $345 in campaign cash on hand, according to early reports.

Porter’s campaign did not respond immediately. However, her campaign noted in an emailed fundraising pitch that the poll showed “Katie one point ahead of all other candidates in this race!” On the other hand, it stated that “nearly half of likely voters have no opinion of Katie, and about a third of voters remain undecided about who they’ll support.”

“While our slim advantage is a sign of our momentum,” Porter continued to say about his fundraising efforts, “there are still a lot of voters who could decide this race, and we need to introduce them to Katie ASAP.”

While Lee continues to trail her Democratic colleagues, the poll showed signs of hope, with a two-point increase. She also leads the field among Black voters, comes in second behind Schiff among Bay Area voters, trails the other candidates slightly in the North Coast and Sierras, and comes in second behind Porter among voters under 40.

“This race is still wide open,” said David Graham-Caso, a spokesman for Lee’s campaign. “Congresswoman Lee has been traveling the state, meeting with key constituencies, and this poll shows that her efforts are bearing fruit.” Three months before the election, our campaign is confident that Congresswoman Lee will finish in the top two.”

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