Porter, Schiff and Lee make final Senate pitch across California, with Garvey nowhere to be seen

Rep. Katie Porter, right, and her son, Luke Hoffman, center, 18, at a voting station at University Hills Community Center
Rep. Katie Porter, right, and her son, Luke Hoffman, center, 18, who is a first-time voter, are helped by customer service representative Jennifer Martin at a voting station at University Hills Community Center in Irvine on Saturday.
(Ringo Chiu / For The Times)

With her signature minivan ensconced in the parking lot and an “I Voted” sticker freshly affixed to her magenta dress, Rep. Katie Porter stared down the scrum of reporters and TV cameras crowded into her Irvine polling place.

“Wait,” she paused, turning back toward the woman running the vote center. “Am I able to answer these questions here, or do you want me to step outside if they’re campaign-related?”

Ever the blunt law professor, even in the final days of her Senate campaign, Porter wanted to ensure she was following applicable electioneering rules before continuing her impromptu Saturday morning news conference.


As her 18-year-old son Luke Hoffman marked his ballot for the first time a few feet away, Porter sounded the familiar notes of her campaign pitch: that Californians were frustrated with Washington, fed up with career politicians and ready for a senator like her, who would do things differently.

A blunt demeanor, professorial intellect and sometimes polarizing ways have defined her three terms as an outspoken member of Congress from a competitive Orange County district.

Feb. 2, 2024

“I’m the only Democratic elected official running in this race who’s never taken corporate PAC money. That makes me different. My vote is not for sale,” Porter said.

And then the single mother headed back toward the slightly beat-up Toyota Sienna, telling her son that he could use the car after she took his sister to water polo.

With just days to go before polls close at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, the three leading Democrats hopscotched around the state, hoping that their final pitches connect with voters . After voting on Saturday morning, Porter had no other public appearances but reemerged Sunday afternoon for an event in San Francisco.

Her principal competitor, Rep. Adam B. Schiff, rented a small private plane for the weekend, allowing him to cover far more ground across the state. And Rep. Barbara Lee had events in San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles and the Inland Empire.

Former Dodgers star Steve Garvey, a Republican who has held few public events and not paid for a single television ad, was absent from the fray throughout the weekend.



On the eve of the state’s most hotly contested Senate race in decades, Porter is now polling in third place and appears likely to be boxed out of the November runoff.

Schiff’s controversial tactic of hyping Garvey appears to have been successful, helping propel the first-time candidate into first place in a field split by three Democratic members of Congress all running to fill the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s former seat.

A poll co-sponsored by the L.A. Times shows the Democratic congressman and the former Dodger strongly positioned to be the two candidates in the general election.

March 1, 2024

Schiff and Porter are both national Democratic luminaries, while Lee has deep progressive credentials burnished over a quarter-century in Congress.

Schiff and his supporters have spent millions airing ads characterizing Garvey, a political novice who has barely campaigned, as his chief rival in the competitive Senate race and a fervent disciple of former President Trump.

Congressman Adam Schiff addresses the crowd at a campaign event in Orange on Saturday.
Rep. Adam Schiff addresses a campaign event at the UA Union Hall in Orange on Saturday. Schiff is running to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
(Paul Rodriguez / For The Times)

The ads were sure to increase the former first baseman’s appeal to Republican voters, though Porter has criticized the tactic as “brazenly cynical.”


Under California’s primary system, only two candidates who receive the most votes in the March 5 election will advance to the November general election, regardless of their political party.

The latest UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by The Times showed Garvey with a slight lead, garnering support from 27% of likely voters to Schiff’s 25% and Porter’s 19%.

Lee, who has remained behind Schiff and Porter throughout the long race, received 8%, while 12% of likely voters picked a different candidate and 9% were undecided.

All of this has put the Burbank congressman in a robust position to potentially sail into a runoff with Garvey — an outcome that would all but guarantee his ascent to the Senate in a general election, given that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 2 to 1 in the state.

But the race isn’t over yet.


Schiff kicked off his weekend of campaigning at a union hall for plumbers and steamfitters in Orange early Saturday morning.

Before he appeared, supporters milled around carrying signs that read “Schiff for Senate” and others that showed a Shepard Fairey rendition of Schiff’s apple-cheeked face. Some wore buttons that showed a young, shirtless Schiff on a bicycle with the caption: “Ridin’ With Schiff.”


Miten Bhatt, 55, of San Bernardino drove to Orange on Saturday morning to see Schiff. It was the computer programmer’s first political rally. Although he isn’t active in politics, Bhatt said, he tries to follow the news and respected that Schiff wasn’t afraid to face off with Trump during the impeachment trial.

“He’s standing up for what’s right,” Bhatt said. “Most of Washington seems pretty corrupt, but he seems to be a straight guy.”

Pam Dunsmore, 36, and her husband, Jaymes, 35, of Fullerton came to the rally with their 1-year-old daughter, Addie, who wore pink socks and a onesie dotted with hearts.

Dunsmore, a professor at Fullerton College, said she likes both Porter and Schiff and was still trying to decide how she would vote. She said she didn’t see many meaningful differences in their policy positions, and hoped that seeing Schiff “in the flesh” would help her decide.

“I am really impressed with both,” Dunsmore said.

After Schiff took the stage, he was interrupted six times by protesters who shouted, one by one, for him to call for a cease-fire in Gaza and stop supporting U.S. military aid for Israel.

The Burbank congressman and Senate candidate, known to the nation for the impeachment inquiry into the ex-president, has long been driven by the pursuit of justice.

Feb. 9, 2024

Schiff plowed on through his scripted speech without acknowledging the interruption as security guards hauled out the protesters.


“We are Californians, and we march forward, ever forward, leading the rest of the country,” Schiff said, as protesters chanted “Cease-fire now!” through bullhorns outside.

Schiff’s supporters chanted “Adam! Adam!” and one staffer closed the entrance to the parking lot to minimize the noise.

Rep. Barbara Lee shakes hand with a rally attendee.
Rep. Barbara Lee, right, who is running for U.S. Senate, shakes hands with Alex Mohajer, candidate for California State Senate, at Back Bay Conference Center in Irvine on Saturday.
(Ringo Chiu / For The Times)

Several hours later in a second-floor conference room above a crowded Irvine bowling alley, mention of Lee’s long-standing support for a cease-fire brought claps and cheers, as did talk of her “multi-racial, multi-generational progressive coalition” and advocacy against defense spending.

“We only have about 77 hours left,” Lee said, decrying the low voter turnout numbers thus far and telling the roughly two dozen people in the room that she was counting on them to be her “trusted messengers” in getting the word out.

She also appeared to make a pointed comparison between her and Schiff and Porter, saying, “When people ask what the differences are between myself and my opponents, I just have to say there are more differences than similarities.”


Democratic Senate candidate Barbara Lee’s quarter-century in the House has been defined by sometimes lonesome pursuits. She says her stances have proved prescient over time.

Feb. 12, 2024

All three Democrats entered the race when Feinstein was still alive, and the long shadow of California’s first female senator loomed large over the race in its early days. Feinstein died in September at 90.

With a nonagenarian incumbent, the race was inherently about generational change. But Schiff, who has been in Congress since 2001 and touted endorsements from establishment figures such as former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has positioned himself as the candidate of continuity who would carry on Feinstein’s legacy. The more iconoclastic Porter has orientated herself as the agent of change — running, to some degree, against the D.C. establishment that Schiff represents.

For months, the race largely centered on these two Democratic superstars, with both leaning into their respective national personas as they hurtled toward presumptive positions in a November runoff. But Garvey’s mid-October entrance ultimately scrambled the field, giving California’s ever-shrinking but still far from insignificant Republican base a candidate to rally behind.

In San Francisco’s Mission District, Porter stood before a packed room of 200 people at Manny’s, a local community space and cafe on Sunday.

Attendees cheered as she touted how she’d not taken money from corporate political action committees and several lined up for photos asking her to sign their whiteboards.

“This is a chance for us to define California as the cutting edge of democracy,” Porter said.


Oakland resident Travis Richards nodded along. Lee is his representative, but ultimately he said that Porter’s expertise in consumer protection law and experience taking on entrenched powers would make her the best senator of the three candidates.

“She’s led from a moral place. I love that about her,” he said.

A hundred or so miles to the south in Salinas, Mike Ferrin and his wife, Suzi, came early Sunday afternoon to grab front-row seats at Schiff’s campaign event on the second floor of a historic building downtown .

Ferrin, who is retired, said he hadn’t been familiar with Schiff until President Trump’s first impeachment trial. Ferrin said he watched him on MSNBC and was impressed by his intelligence and his moral compass.

Ferrin had seen the UC Berkeley/Times poll that suggested Garvey was leading Schiff among likely voters, and questioned what qualifications Garvey had to be in Congress. A longtime San Francisco Giants fan, Ferrin had his own memories of Garvey from the candidate’s Dodger baseball days.

“I remember rooting against him then,” Ferrin said, “and I’m still rooting against him now.”