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California Senate candidates face off in first debate

Written by The Anand Market

Updated on:

Shawn Hubler, Jill Cowan And

It’s Monday. California’s leading candidates vying for a U.S. Senate seat face off today. Plus, an update on a plan by tech billionaires to build a city from the ground up in Solano County.

Picturesteve garvey walks with a group of people.  a sidewalk filled with various objects is in the background.
Steve Garvey, center, during a visit to Los Angeles’ Skid Row neighborhood this month. He joined the Senate race to fill the seat of the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein.Credit…Richard Vogel/Associated Press

When Dianne Feinstein died in September, she left vacant the U.S. Senate seat she had held for more than three decades.

Gov. Gavin Newsom quickly appointed Laphonza Butler, president of Emily’s List and former union leader, as California’s new senator until an election can be held this year to fill the seat. Butler announced a few weeks later that she was not interested in running for office in 2024.

The move paved the way for a competitive primary race. Dozens of candidates entered the race, but four emerged as the leading contenders: three Democratic members of Congress and a former major league baseball star. They are scheduled to appear together for the first time on stage tonight, for a debate at the University of Southern California, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

The quartet includes Adam Schiff, 63, a Burbank Democrat currently leading in polls and well known for serving as the lead prosecutor in the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump; Katie Porter, 50, an Orange County Democrat who consistently ranks second in polls; Barbara Lee, 77, an Oakland Democrat and longtime progressive; and Steve Garvey, 75, former first baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres and the only Republican among the four.

Under California’s open primary system, they all compete in the same March 5 primary, and the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, will advance to the November general election to determine the winner.

(Technically, there are two elections for the seat being held at the same time: one to fill the seat from Election Day until the end of the current term on December 31, and another for the new six-year term which follows. Voters will vote in the two primaries on March 5 and the two general elections on November 5. The same four candidates lead the field in both races.)

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Garvey, the Republican, could have an outsized impact on the race, experts say. Porter, Lee and Schiff are expected to split Democratic votes, while Garvey appears to be gaining ground among Republicans as the party’s only candidate with significant identification.

“There are not enough Republicans in California to elect a candidate for statewide office,” Dan Schnur, a political analyst who teaches at the University of Southern California, told Pepperdine University and the University of California, Berkeley. “But there are just enough for a candidate to make it to the second round.”

That calculation, he said, created an obstacle for Lee and Porter — and perhaps a big advantage for Schiff. Because the California electorate is very liberal, any Democrat who wins a spot on the November ballot will automatically have an advantage if second place goes to a Republican.

“The general election could be handed to Schiff on a silver platter if Garvey finishes second” in the primary, Schnur said.

So far, Garvey has kept a relatively low campaign profile. Schnur, a former Republican political consultant, called it a “number.” Garvey recently told reporters that he would come up with ideas to solve California’s homelessness problem if he survived the primaries.

Schiff comes to the showdown with a vested interest in raising Garvey’s profile and with key establishment backers, including those on the Los Angeles Times editorial board and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Lee is expected to emphasize her progressive bona fides and her appeal as a black woman to majority-minority California’s diverse electorate. Porter is expected to highlight his popularity not only among progressives and young voters, but also among suburban women, a crucial bloc in the state.

“Schiff is a Biden establishment Democrat,” Schnur said. “And in very different ways, Lee and Porter represent the progressive activist wing of the party. If this campaign were six or eight years from now, Porter would have a big advantage. But change is happening at a pace that seems to benefit Schiff.”

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Christian Grose, a professor of political science and public policy at USC, said the debate will be an opportunity for the candidates to introduce themselves to voters, many of whom have not yet paid close attention to the race.

He said he expected Schiff, Porter and Lee to be well versed on policy issues. Garvey is another matter.

“He’s not Arnold Schwarzenegger,” Grose said. “He could escape. He could be really charming. But it could also have a little “deer in the headlights” look.

Grose said Garvey may be able to sway primary voters — who are likely to be more conservative on average than general election voters — by highlighting the difficulty the state’s Democratic leaders have had in reduce homelessness.

Grose added that in watching the debate, he plans to focus on how the top three Democrats respond to questions about the homeless issue. He pointed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent efforts in court to make it easier for cities to move homeless people off the streets, an issue the U.S. Supreme Court will consider later this year.

“I could see the three Democrats balancing the importance of empathy and assistance with a stance of ‘It’s time to do something,'” Grose said.

For more:

In Solano County, tech billionaires are trying to build a city from the ground up. But some residents do not want to sell their land.


Students in a fourth grade class at an elementary school in Long Beach, California, in August.Credit…Brittany Murray/Long Beach Press-Telegram, via Getty Images
  • California and Oregon deviated from CDC Covid-19 guidelines by telling infected workers and students they did not have to quarantine if they were asymptomatic.

  • The CEO of the California High-Speed ​​Rail Authority announced Thursday that he would resignreports the Fresno Bee.

  • Toni Atkins, the outgoing leader of the State Senate, joined the 2026 race to succeed Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is in the running with three other candidates so far, KQED reports.

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  • The Los Angeles Innocence Project, an organization that examines possible wrongful convictions, filed court papers to reexamine the case of Scott Peterson, who is serving a life sentence for the murders of his pregnant wife and their unborn son.

  • London Mayor San Francisco has refused to veto a non-binding resolution from city officials calling for a extended ceasefire in Gazareports the Associated Press.

  • The 20th annual March for Life on the West Coast kicked off with a rally at the Civic Center in San Francisco, as thousands took to the streets to peacefully protest against abortionreports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Today we ask about love: no Who you love but What you love your corner of California.

Send us a love letter to your California city, neighborhood or region – or the Golden State as a whole – and we may share it in an upcoming newsletter. You can reach the team at


Credit…Ryan Young for the New York Times

Finding a workout program that doesn’t involve purchasing expensive equipment or an expensive gym membership can sometimes be a challenge. But getting in shape doesn’t have to be a major financial investment.

New York Times staff writer Erik Vance recently wrote about staying on a budget, with creative tips for using your home, the outdoors, and some basic amenities. Think: jumping rope, walking with a weighted backpack, or, for the more adventurous among us, carrying heavy stones on the beach.

Her list has recommendations for people of all fitness (and commitment) levels, whether you’re looking for an intense workout or just following a New Year’s resolution. Read the full article here.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. -Soumya

PS Here today’s mini crosswords.

Maia Coleman and Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at

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