California Democrats Helping Republicans — By: Church Militant

DETROIT ( – The California U.S. Senate primary campaign may become regarded as the most unique in American history. Due to the top-two (jungle) system that the state’s voters adopted in the 2010 ballot proposition, we now see the unusual situation of two Democratic U.S. Senate candidates, for their their own advantage, using their own campaign funds to boost specific Republican opponents.

Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter

In a top-two (or jungle) primary, the candidates — regardless of party affiliation — run against each other, with the top two vote-getters facing off in the general election.

From the beginning, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, has led the open race in all jungle primary polling. In the past couple of weeks, he began airing ads in order to, in a backhanded way, help Republican baseball great Steve Garvey finish second behind him, thus setting up a traditional Democrat/Republican general election — a contest Schiff is virtually assured of winning.

This would create a highly competitive Democrat vs. Democrat general election.

Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, is now adopting a similar strategy, going after another Republican candidate in the hopes of splitting the conversative vote enough to elevate herself over Garvey. This would create a highly competitive Democrat vs. Democrat general election between herself and Schiff.

Democrats’ ‘Pro-GOP’ Strategy

The most recent polls suggest Schiff’s strategy is working. With the March 5 primary fast approaching, Emerson College surveyed the California electorate in a partnership with The Hill newspaper and the Inside California Politics blog. They found Rep. Schiff leading the open U.S. Senate field, this time with 28% of the vote. In second place, and for the first time with a sizable advantage over the third place finisher, is Garvey with 22%. Following are Reps. Porter and Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, with 16 and 9%, respectively.

Beyond the Headlines: What are top-two primaries?

Schiff began financing ads saying, in effect, that Garvey is too conservative for California. But the ads target Republican voters not to hurt him, but to help him. Garvey raised only $610,000 through the end of 2023, which meant there was little way he could finance a major statewide media and digital buy. Therefore, Schiff is taking it upon himself to help Garvey by “attacking” him with the idea that Republican voters will respond and unite behind him. If they coalesce around Garvey to the point that he is elevated into second place — eliminating Democrat rival Porter — Schiff’s road to the Senate after the March primary becomes much easier.

Reps. Schiff and Porter are … possibly exposing one of the system’s flaws.

Now Porter is getting into the act, seeing that the Schiff strategy is helping to move Garvey’s numbers. She launched 15-second ads feigning to attack Republican Eric Early, who has even fewer campaign resources than his partisan opponent. The ad script claims Early is “too MAGA for California,” and criticizes Garvey for not saying who he would support for president. Porter’s target is the hardcore Trump voter, enough of whom she hopes to peel away from Garvey to slip into second place with her share of the state’s much larger left-of-center Democratic base.

Turnout Will Affect Outcome

With President Biden having virtually no opposition and his approval numbers, though in positive territory, still rather weak, it is possible we could see a lower Democratic primary turnout, and such an occurrence could also boost Garvey’s chances for second place.

Joe Biden

In the 2022 election, just over 7 million people voted in the California jungle primary, and in the 2020 presidential primary election, the total turnout exceeded 8.3 million voters. Most believe the 2024 turnout will be under the state’s 2020 presidential election primary turnout.

In the national presidential election, due to delegate selection, states must hold partisan primaries or caucuses. Therefore, the top-two system is not in effect for nominating a presidential candidate. In 2020, 68% of the voters participated in the Democratic primary and 29% cast a Republican ballot.

If the Democratic participation rate becomes lower than 2020 and the Republican number slightly improves, then Garvey may well have a chance to finish second. With the larger number of Democratic candidates potentially further splitting perhaps a lower turnout base, then Republican hopes of qualifying a general election candidate grow.

Reps. Schiff and Porter are demonstrating a different way of campaigning in what is a rare primary structure, and thus possibly exposing one of the system’s flaws. Regardless of whether the Schiff and Porter campaign tactic is something the voters intended when they adopted the voting structure, at least one of the Democrats’ strategies may prove effective.

The outcome of this race is just one more point of interest to watch in what will be a very busy Super Tuesday primary night throughout the nation.

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