California voters showed their approval of late Sen. Dianne Feinstein by repeatedly re-electing her over a more than 30-year career that ended with her September death. The leading candidates jostling for her job include three fellow Democrats — all further to her left on some key issues — and a Republican to her right.
When Feinstein became the state’s first woman U.S. senator in 1992 she was considered left of many Democrats with her military-style weapons ban and support for abortion and gay rights, but later was seen as a moderate centrist.
Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff of Burbank, Katie Porter of Irvine and Barbara Lee of Oakland, and Republican former Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres first baseman Steve Garvey of Palm Desert, lead the crowded field of contenders in a state whose voters have shifted leftward and Democratic.
“California has become much more Democratic, and much deeper Democratic and a much different kind of Democratic,” said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political science professor.
Polls put Schiff ahead with Porter and Garvey neck and neck for second and Lee close behind. Voting now is underway for the March 5 primary election in which the two candidates with the most votes regardless of party will compete for the seat in November.
Here’s how the four leading candidates compare with Feinstein and each other on some key issues:
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 Dobbs decision reversed its 1973 Roe ruling that created an abortion right, there have been dueling Senate proposals to ban abortions nationwide after 15 weeks, and to establish a national abortion right — which Feinstein and California’s other Senator, Alex Padilla, signed on to.
Schiff: Supports national right to abortion.
Porter: Supports national right to abortion.
Lee: Supports national right to abortion.
Garvey: Hasn’t commented on national right to abortion, but opposes a national abortion ban to respect California’s 2022 vote to establish state abortion rights.
In 2019, congressional Democrats introduced plans for a 10-year mobilization to reduce greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming called the “Green New Deal.” It calls for all U.S. power to come from renewable, zero-emission energy sources, energy efficiency building upgrades, subsidies for zero-emission vehicles and public transit, including high-speed rail. It promotes sustainable agriculture and labor protections. Critics said the clean energy goals are unrealistic and costs could top $1 trillion. Feinstein famously dismissed activist kids demanding she support it, telling them “there’s no way to pay for it” or enough votes to pass it.
Schiff: Was an original co-signer to the Green New Deal.
Porter: Joined as Green New Deal co-signer in 2021 after labor provisions she requested were added.
Lee: Was an original co-signer to the Green New Deal.
Garvey: Hasn’t taken a position on the Green New Deal but is “all in for practical climate action that balances our ecological needs with economic growth” and supports “policies that promote clean energy, reduce emissions, and preserve our natural beauty.”
Gun restrictions were a signature Feinstein issue since the assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk by a fellow supervisor thrust her into political prominence. She authored a 10-year federal ban on “assault weapons” — semi-automatic replicas of automatic military guns with large-capacity magazines like the AK-47 and AR-15 — that took effect in 1994 and expired in 2004. She reintroduced it multiple times since. Critics say it guts constitutional rights by opening the door to banning most modern guns.
Schiff: Supports national assault weapon ban.
Porter: Supports national assault weapon ban.
Lee: Supports national assault weapon ban.
Garvey: Supports “some restrictions” including national assault weapon ban.
Feinstein supported the Affordable Care Act — “Obamacare” — and making Medicare available as a public health care option but opposed progressive “single-payer” proposals for a complete government health care takeover.
Schiff: Supports making Medicare available to all but not eliminating the option of private insurance.
Porter: Supports “single-payer” Medicare for All system replacing market-based private insurance.
Lee: Supports “single-payer” Medicare for All system replacing market-based private insurance.
Garvey: Would maintain competitive health insurance market.
Aid to Israel
Feinstein as well as all of the candidates have voiced support for Ukraine’s ongoing defense against Russia’s invasion. But Israel’s fight in Gaza following Hamas’ October attack on Israeli civilians, which Feinstein didn’t live to see, has divided the candidates.
Schiff: Supports Israel’s fight against Hamas, as well as humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza.
Porter: Says U.S. should seek conditions that would foster a cease-fire, including release of all hostages, security guarantees for Israel and ending Hamas’ control of Gaza.
Lee: Called for unconditional cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
Garvey: Supports Israel’s fight against Hamas.
Directing federal funds to local needs has been criticized as wasteful and corrupt, though Feinstein wasn’t shy about getting federal money for California.
Schiff: Says members of Congress should seek federal dollars for local needs.
Porter: Says earmarks should be eliminated and federal dollars for local needs should be awarded by “neutral experts” in executive branch, not members of Congress.
Lee: Says members of Congress should seek federal dollars for local needs.
Garvey: Says members of Congress should seek federal dollars for local needs.
A surge of migrants under the Biden administration has spawned a southern border crisis and aggravated a vexing immigration dispute. Feinstein and the Democratic candidates had criticized former President Donald Trump’s call for a border wall. Candidates were asked about the border at their last debate.
Schiff: Said we have a crisis, the system is broken and must be fixed comprehensively. Said migrants should apply for asylum in their home countries and the U.S. should provide additional resources to process them.
Porter: Said the U.S. needs both border security and a “lawful, humane” border system.
Lee: Said “no person is illegal” and the country must have an immigration policy that provides due process and is orderly and humane.
Garvey: Said his Democratic rivals have been part of the problem and the U.S. must secure its borders and have a fair, functional immigration system.
U.S. Supreme Court
Congressional Democrats frustrated with the high court’s conservative majority have floated the idea of expanding the number of justices — which isn’t constitutionally set — to add liberal appointees. It’s something party icon Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried unsuccessfully in the 1930s, irked over court rejection of some of his New Deal proposals. Feinstein wasn’t a fan, saying in 2019 the nine justices are an “appropriate” number.
Schiff: Would expand court to 13 justices with 18-year term limits.
Porter: Would expand court to 13 justices and impose 18-year term limits.
Lee: Would expand court and impose 18-year term limit on justices.
Garvey: Doesn’t favor changes to Supreme Court
The Senate tradition of unlimited debate lets lawmakers prevent a bill from reaching a vote by threatening unending discussion, which for more than a century could only be ended by a supermajority “cloture” vote, currently 60. Critics say this prevents meaningful legislation, supporters say it ensures laws have broad support. Feinstein wasn’t keen on upending the tradition but said she’d do it for a national abortion right.
Schiff: Would end the filibuster.
Porter: Would end the filibuster.
Lee: Would end the filibuster.
Garvey: Would maintain the filibuster.