Supporters of Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff’s Senate bid plan to spend millions of dollars ahead of the airing of television ads for California’s March 5 primary focused solely on Republican candidate Steve Garvey.
The ads could help Garvey, a former Dodgers All-Star first baseman, attract enough support among California Republicans to edge out Schiff’s main Democratic rival in the primary, Rep. Katie Porter of Irvine, opening an easier path to the congressman from Burbank. victory in the November general elections.
But experts say efforts by Schiff and his allies to bolster Garvey — including one announced Friday morning by a PAC supporting the congressman — will help the political newcomer. The media barrage, combined with Garvey’s celebrity from his days playing for the Dodgers and San Diego Padres, could be enough to ensure he wins one of the top two spots in the primary.
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Experts say Garvey simply needs to stay the course, even though he has little campaign money and few ways, beyond media appearances, to get his message across.
“No other Republican is talking to voters; no other Republican has a name here or any element of fame,” said Rob Stutzman, a GOP strategist who advised former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others. So, “if Republican voters coalesce around him,” Garvey could win enough votes to advance to the general election.
“I think there is a scenario that if Schiff does his job too well, Garvey might be the first to get votes,” Stutzman said.
Stutzman believes Schiff’s ads could help increase Garvey’s support to 20 percent of the primary vote.
A poll conducted last month by the Institute for Government Studies at UC Berkeley, before the ads aired, found that Schiff was supported by 21 percent of likely voters, compared to 17 percent for Porter and 13 percent for Garvey. .
Under California’s primary system, the two most popular candidates in the March election advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. Democrats have a history of trying to elevate a Republican to one of the top two spots to create an easy contest, given Democrats’ overwhelming voter registration advantage in the state.
On Friday, an independent pro-Schiff spending committee, funded by wealthy individuals, unions and Native American tribes, who can accept unlimited donations but cannot coordinate with the candidate’s campaign, launched a 30-second ad criticizing Garvey as being “too conservative for California.” .” The ad says he voted for Trump twice, could swing the Senate, and would “advance Trump’s MAGA agenda.”
“This is about holding Steve Garvey accountable for voting twice for Trump and his MAGA agenda,” said Kyle Layman, executive director of the Standing Strong PAC, which funds statewide television advertising. “As we head into the general election, he cannot be allowed to reinvent himself and hide his conservative MAGA values. California voters need to know who Garvey really is.
This is in addition to a similar television ad from the Schiff campaign, which is augmenting messages with emails and targeting digital ads at Republican voters in deeply conservative parts of the state.
Republican Rep. Joe Patterson, who lives in the pro-Trump town of Rocklin in Placer County, said he received mail at his home – and Facebook ads on his feed – from Schiff’s campaign highlighting before “the leading Republican candidate – Steve Garvey.” The documents highlight Garvey’s support for Trump and claim the candidate “is too conservative for California.”
Patterson, noting that he is undecided in the race, said the tactic was smart.
“This may be the first Democratic mail I’ve received,” he said. “Honestly, I can’t stand Adam Schiff. But I kind of have respect for that. It’s a dog move.
Garvey’s campaign, which has no presence on the airwaves and reported having $300,000 at the end of 2023, criticized the Democrat’s efforts to bolster his candidacy.
“Steve Garvey’s campaign has always been and will continue to be about bringing all Californians together for common-sense, compassionate solutions to today’s real problems, not trivial political hatchet-making.” , said spokesperson Matt Shupe. “Californians are tired of this divisive rhetoric that seeks to divide us into simple groups against ourselves rather than uniting us in a common cause to improve the lives of all of us. This is why Steve Garvey continues to rise in the polls. »
Both the Schiff and Porter campaigns declined to comment.
Porter called Schiff’s decision to strengthen Garvey cynical and misleading. Its latest TV spot shows a clip from Schiff’s Garvey ad, with a narrator saying, “This ad? Typical politicians…. »
This week, Porter launched a policy initiative on the issue voters consistently consider most pressing: housing and homelessness. The 10-point plan includes creating a select committee on housing and finding ways to help Californians on fixed incomes, like seniors and students, afford to rent housing.
“I think instead of playing cynical political games and trying to take this choice away from us, we should focus on communicating directly with voters about what we’re going to do for California,” Porter said recently at Fox 11.
The problem is that even before the independent committee announced its plans Friday, Schiff was spending three times as much money as Porter on television ads, according to Democratic media buyer Sheri Sadler, who is not affiliated with either candidate or independent expenditure committees. In the race.
Porter finished 2023 with $13.2 million in his Senate campaign account. Schiff had $34.9 million.
Adam Probolsky, an Orange County-based pollster who has worked for both Democrats and Republicans, said Porter’s financial reserves gave him an opportunity to beat Garvey and place in the top two in the primary. He said Porter needs to continue to get her message across the airwaves and emphasize that she is the younger candidate, with more innovative ideas.
“Katie Porter is everywhere, attacking the system, and it needs to stay that way,” he said, noting that California is one of the most expensive media markets in the country. “It’s really about money. I wish there was something else, but it’s a pretty darn big state.
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