Who won, who lost and who went untouched in our California Senate debate - Living Strong Television Network
Who won, who lost and who went untouched in our California Senate debate

LOS ANGELES — Californians watched 90 minutes of debating between the candidates running to succeed the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein — and they still don’t know whether Republican Steve Garvey is voting for Donald Trump.

Garvey came in for the most sustained attacks other than Trump himself, many from Democratic Reps. Katie Porter and Barbara Lee. Here’s who won, who lost, and who surprised in the POLITICO-sponsored event.

The Democrats on stage, including Rep. Adam Schiff, repeatedly laid into Garvey for ducking questions about his vote for president — in the state’s March primary, as well as in November. But it was Porter who got in the line of the evening.

“Well, California, I think what they say is true, ‘once a Dodger, always a Dodger,’” she zinged about the former major league ballplayer.

“Ballots go out in six weeks, Mr. Garvey, this is not the minor leagues,” Porter pressed. “Who will you vote for?”

Others joined in the pile-on before Garvey tried to swing back.

“You’re banging on that trash can, just like the Astros did,” he said, referencing the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal.

And after considerable ribbing, Garvey refused to cave on whether he’d vote for Trump in November.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about my personal choice,” Garvey added. “I will make it in the sovereignty of wherever that is.”

Who had the best night?

Porter took hits but she was still the night’s most relentless debater, spinning out of corners when opponents attacked her over her opposition to congressional earmark spending and deftly surviving a tough, middle-ground position on Israel by throwing the matter back on Lee.

“Cease-fire is not a magic word,” Porter said on an issue where Lee has tried to distinguish herself as solidly anti-war. “You can’t say it and make it so.”

From start to finish, Porter pinned blame on corporations for seemingly all that ills Washington, drawing little pushback from the two other Democrats on stage. But equally in her crosshairs was what she described as an ineffective, clubby culture in Washington over the years. She portrayed herself as only a recent member of that club, if a member of it at all.

When Schiff talked about his pride as a prosecutor taking on oil companies, Porter pounced.

“Representative Schiff may have prosecuted big oil companies before he came to Congress, but when he got to Congress, he cashed checks from companies like BP, fossil fuel companies,” she said.

Schiff was ready with a response, pointing to the hundreds of thousands he claims to have helped her raise in her purple House seat in recent years.

“First of all, I gave that money to you, Katie Porter.”

Porter argued oil money she was referring to came before she entered Congress.

“Honestly, Rep. Schiff, I didn’t realize how much dirty money you took until I was running against you,” she said. “You’ve taken money from Big Oil, Big Pharma, cable companies.”

She also attacked Schiff over abortion, trying to pierce his boasts about delivering.

“Congressman Schiff mentioned abortion on his website under his page called ‘Adam’s accomplishments,’” Porter said. “And as a mother of a young daughter, I do not feel like abortion rights have been accomplished. Not in the year when millions of Americans have lost abortion access.”

As the candidate on the verge of qualifying for the November runoff, she did herself the most favors with her showing Monday. Whether it was enough — without a true viral moment — is TBD.

Who had the worst night?

C’mon. Garvey has to pray that nobody watched the debate — even some Republicans willing to throw away their vote on a sure loserin November. If the bar for GOP support is on the floor, Garvey didn’t do enough to clear it. He managed not to meet expectations that were, well, that low.

Some conservative partisans will likely applaud his references to Ronald Reagan.

He was painfully unspecific, opening with a joke that he doesn’t agree with Senate Republicans on much of anything that, on second and third listen, may or may not have been a joke. The problem is no one knows, because rather than preparing to discuss the biggest issues facing Californians, Garvey seemingly chose to wing it.

Instead, he said he’d lead with compassion, throwing in $.50-cent words like “sovereignty,” and saying “policy, for me, is position.”

He did circle around to some answers beyond generalities like creating more competition in the healthcare marketplace and clearing regulations to build more housing. Garvey wouldn’t vote to repeal Obamacare, and opposes Medicare for all.

He eventually said he would not vote with Senate Republicans on a national abortion ban. Porter wasn’t buying it.

Asked if she thinks Garvey will support abortion rights in Congress, Porter simply said, “No.”

What surprised you most during the debate?

It’s hard at this point to express surprise, but Garvey’s lack of grasp on nearly every issue he was asked about was startling. He repeatedly struggled to fill minute-long answers.

“I have nothing that’s truly etched in stone, except what is truly, right,” he said, in a good summation of his murky approach to holding one of the country’s 50 most powerful offices. “As I think President Lincoln said one time, ‘I will stand with those that are right. I will walk away from those that I don’t agree with.’”

Lee wasn’t the most crisp on policy either, but she punched hard on her support for a ceasefire, drawing a clear line in her efforts to win over more progressive votes.

The answer continues to separate her from Porter, whose permanent ceasefire calls come with very-tall-order conditions that Hamas release all the hostages, resources to rebuild Gaza, making sure Israel is secure and a free state for Palestinians.

Lee elicited laughs from the audience when she mocked the way Garvey said he was the only candidate to recently travel to inner cities, where he recalled speaking to, and physically touching, homeless people.

Did anything we saw tonight hurt Adam Schiff?

No. Schiff did just what he needed to do as the leader in the race. He was fine.

He was strongest on some of his core messages — defending democracy, standing as a bulwark against Trumpism and the MAGA world and pressing the case that he’d deliver for California in the Senate.

He touted his vast support from colleagues, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

We need a Senator in California who’s ready to lead in the big fights, but we also need a Senator who can get things done,” Schiff said.

“I have a record of getting things done,” he added. “I prosecuted oil companies as a prosecutor. I took on the health insurance industry to pass a California Patient Bill of Rights in Congress. I brought back millions to California to build affordable housing.”

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