With three weeks to go until the primary election, the top four candidates for California’s open U.S. Senate seat met again on the debate stage to make their cases for representing the nation’s most populous state — and the world’s fifth-largest economy — in the Capitol.
Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff of Burbank, Katie Porter of Irvine and Barbara Lee of Oakland as well as Republican ex-Dodger Steve Garvey spent the evening discussing hot-button issues like immigration, housing and the economy. Their answers were passionate, but their tone was strikingly civil as the majority of their time was dedicated to highlighting their own platforms as opposed to tearing down those of their competitors.
On the border crisis, all candidates agreed with an urgent need for change, but their proposed plans of action were divided along partisan lines.
Garvey, the sole Republican candidate on the debate stage, squarely pointed the blame for the state of the border at President Joe Biden.
“The president opened the floodgates and created a crisis in the United States,” said Garvey. “He should be the one to step up and close the border; he should be the one that stops the infiltration of the cartels and stops rampant drugs coming into this country from China.”
The Democratic candidates, meanwhile, criticized the approach of former President Donald Trump and Republican governors toward the migrant crisis.
“I don’t agree with draconian solutions. I don’t agree with Mr. Garvey, who is promoting Donald Trump’s border wall,” said Schiff. “That doesn’t work.”
Instead of ramping up efforts to keep immigrants out, Schiff called for an increase of immigration judges who can process asylum claims. Porter, meanwhile, said she supports deploying more resources and personnel to the border, including technology that would make it easier to detect fentanyl and other illegal goods.
Lee criticized Republican governors who have sent immigrants to cities with Democratic leaders, such as Los Angeles and New York.
“We need to make sure that we invest in cities and counties that are really helping immigrants given the governors’ abilities to send immigrants to other states,” she said. “What they’re doing is dividing residents from immigrants.”
A similar divide among the candidates played out on the topic of raising the minimum wage.
The three Democrats said boosting the minimum wage is necessary to address the housing affordability crisis, while Garvey said: “It’s fine where it is.”
Garvey said that the cost of an increased minimum wage will be passed directly onto “hard-working Californians” who will be forced to pay more for everyday goods.
But Schiff, in response to Garvey, said: “You can say the minimum wage is fine where it is, but you want to know why people are living on the street. It’s because we’re paying them poverty wages.”
Porter and Lee both support a $20 to $25 an hour minimum wage. Lee, who is pitching herself as the most progressive candidate in the race, has said that she would consider $50 per hour a living wage in the Bay Area, which she represents.
She backed up the need for such a drastic jump during the debate by pointing to a study that found that a $127,000 annual income is “barely enough” for a family of four to survive in the Bay Area.
“I have got to be focused on what California needs and what the affordability factor is when we calculate these wages,” she said.
When it comes to boosting the economy, Garvey called for “opening the gates, cutting inflation” by reducing the amount of government regulations on housing production. However, when pushed, he failed to articulate any specific regulations he would roll back.
Encouraging more housing production was a rare point of agreement among all the candidates. However, while Garvey thinks the best way to do so is by the government getting out of the way, Porter thinks the government should take a more active role in funding development.
She emphasized the need to “harness the power of the federal government to unleash that capital that we need to build more housing at a price point where our workers can afford it.” Her housing plan calls for incentivizing the production of multifamily housing developments with tax credits and government loan guarantees.
Monday night’s showdown was hosted by KTLA in San Francisco. In January, the four candidates met on the debate stage in Los Angeles where they dueled over healthcare, the Israel-Hamas war and Trump.
When conflict in the Middle East came up again, Lee continued to call for an immediate ceasefire. Schiff said he recognizes the need to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, but doesn’t want Hamas, which has been dubbed a terrorist organization, to control the area. Garvey called a two-state solution “unrealistic” and said he supports Israel’s right to defend itself.
Garvey, once again, dodged questions about Trump. He declined to say whether he would vote for Trump again or accept the former president’s endorsement.
“I think it’s personal,” he said. “I’ll make that decision when the time comes, and I hope this puts an end to this constant badgering and the use of the former president’s name as an attack against me.”
Schiff currently leads the race with approximately 25% of voters’ support, according to the recent California Elections & Policy Poll. Porter and Garvey are deadlocked in second place with 15% each, while Lee trails with 7%.
The top two vote-getters in the primary will advance to the November ballot to fill the seat long held by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who died in September.
Schiff stands to benefit from facing a Republican opponent in November as opposed to a fellow Democrat, whose campaign could potentially pick up steam post-primary.
Garvey, for his part, profits from a three-way split in the Democratic vote during the primary but would face an uphill battle once the Democratic vote coalesces around a single candidate. A Republican candidate has not won a Senate race in California since 1988.