Progressives are not happy with Adam Schiff. Will it matter in U.S. Senate race?

Progressives are not happy with Adam Schiff. Will it matter in U.S. Senate race?

Progressives are not happy with Adam Schiff. Will it matter in U.S. Senate race?

In summary

Progressive Democratic groups that backed Katie Porter or Barbara Lee are blasting Rep. Schiff’s “selfish” tactics in boosting Republican Steve Garvey into the November election. Some also want Schiff to take a stronger stand for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Buoyed by a sizable war chest, Democrat Adam Schiff spent heavily to propel himself and his desired opponent — former baseball star Steve Garvey, a Republican — into the November election for California’s U.S. Senate seat. 

The matchup has likely guaranteed Schiff’s November victory, since no Republican has won a California statewide race in almost 20 years. Some Democrats rejoiced at the outcome, hoping it could free up more campaign cash to support Democrats in swing districts and states.

Progressives, however, are not happy.

Schiff’s boost for Garvey drew a sharp rebuke from some progressive groups, who argued his tactics elbowed out Reps. Katie Porter and Barbara Lee — both popular among progressive voters — and could both encourage GOP turnout and dampen turnout among young voters of color to hurt Democrats in key congressional and legislative races in November. 

“Adam Schiff’s selfishness may have just helped MAGA extremists win control of the same House of Representatives that oversees the presidential Electoral College count,“ said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which endorsed Porter. 

Green on Wednesday called on Schiff to give millions of dollars to congressional candidates in battleground districts “that he just left out to dry.”

And Schiff’s defense of Israel in the Gaza war — at odds with progressives pushing for a permanent ceasefire — could discourage some Democrats from voting in the race, some warned. 

“If Adam Schiff does not move towards a more progressive position on issues, especially with ceasefire, … he’s gonna run the real risk that base voters may sit it out this go around,” said Joseph Geevarghese, executive director of the grassroots advocacy group Our Revolution, which supported Lee.

Asked for comment, Schiff’s campaign pointed to a Fox11 News interview Wednesday in which Schiff was asked to respond to the criticism that his strategies could make it more difficult for Democrats to retake control of Congress.

“There’s only one Democrat who buys that argument,” Schiff said, referring to Porter, “who would think that one Democrat spending millions against another Democrat to beat each other up was a good idea for the party instead of being able to use those resources to elect other Democrats.”

Schiff also doubled down on his opposition to a permanent ceasefire, arguing it would “permanently entrench the terrorist organization like Hamas governing Gaza.”

The outrage from some progressives is a reality Schiff will have to face within his own party as he works to consolidate the Democratic vote for the November election. 

While he has consistently placed first in polls among Democratic voters overall, Schiff was mostly popular among older, whiter homeowners, while Porter had more support among younger voters and those who identified as progressive Democrats, according to a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll last week. 

But could the splinter with progressives hurt Schiff’s chances of winning in November?

Unlikely, said Democratic strategist Garry South, who voted for Schiff. 

“If progressive voters sit out the Senate race when the opponent to Adam Schiff is Steve Garvey, a guy who voted for Donald Trump twice, (you) might have to question their motivation,” he said.

The Gaza concern

Chants for a ceasefire in Gaza broke out minutes into Schiff’s victory speech Tuesday night, bringing the celebration in Los Angeles to a brief halt. 

“Let Gaza Live!” Pro-ceasefire protesters scattered in the crowd repeatedly yelled, some holding their fists high.

It’s a signal that progressives in California are growing more frustrated with some Democratic officials’ reluctance to call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza as civilian casualties rise. During the California Democratic Party convention last November, Lee — the only one in the race to call for a permanent ceasefire at the time — won the plurality vote from party delegates, as pro-ceasefire protesters chanted her name. 

Protesters calling for a ceasefire of Israeli bombing in Gaza interrupted the general session at the California Democratic Convention in Sacramento on Nov. 18, 2023. The group broke past security and gained access to the general session events at the SAFE Credit Union Convention Center. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters
Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland addresses delegates at the Democratic Party convention in Sacramento on Nov. 17, 2023. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez Jr., CalMatters

Schiff has been in lockstep with the White House on the issue, on Tuesday backing a call for a temporary ceasefire backed by President Joe Biden, Politico reported. Vice President Kamala Harris on Sunday called for an “immediate ceasefire” for at least six weeks as the administration continued to negotiate with Israel on a deal. 

Biden has faced backlash from progressive voters for his stance on the Israel-Hamas war. In a February poll, 46% of the Democrats said they were dissatisfied with Biden’s handling of the situation. In states including Minnesota and Michigan, droves of voters voted “uncommitted” to express their frustration with Biden’s stance on the Gaza war as he faces a sure rematch with Trump in November. In a similar protest, California leaders with the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for Democratic voters to leave the presidential race blank.

Geevarghese argued that a temporary ceasefire is not enough, and that Biden’s shift toward a temporary ceasefire was merely “rhetoric.”

“The base is angry and disgusted with the conduct of foreign policy by the U.S. government, and wants to see concrete action,” he said.

“I see both the administration and Adam Schiff recognizing there’s deep voter discontent, but not necessarily fully responding to it in a way that would win back the trust of key parts of the Democratic base and motivate them.”

‘Ongoing struggle’

But efforts to elevate Porter or Lee into the November election still fell short — a result most progressive groups blamed on Schiff’s strategy.

“Ultimately, the more than $11 million scheme that Schiff and his allies invested in to keep progressive women off the ballot proved insurmountable in a low voter turnout election in California,” reads a statement from Power PAC, a progressive group supporting Lee.

But South shrugged off the criticism, arguing it is “fair game” in a top-two primary for a candidate to target any of their opponents, regardless of party affiliation.

“I know there’s all kinds of tut-tutting about the supposed cynicism of Schiff boosting Steve Garvey, but the fact of the matter is neither of the two so-called ‘progressive’ candidates, Barbara Lee or Katie Porter, had the resources to do much of anything,” he said. “This wasn’t dirty pool.”

Porter would disagree. In her Tuesday night speech, she argued she was boxed out by “special interests and the ultra wealthy” that spent millions of dollars in the race. But she also adopted a similar tactic, airing ads to boost Republican candidate Eric Early, although at a much smaller scale than Schiff. 

“Like we’ve seen in this campaign, they spend millions to defeat someone who will dilute their influence and disrupt the status quo,” she said in a campaign statement Wednesday.

Lee congratulated Schiff in a Wednesday statement, touting her “grassroots” campaign for “progressive change” while acknowledging a lackluster fundraising effort. 

“Despite being heavily outspent by my opponents, our values never wavered,” she said.

Lee — who has represented the Oakland area in Congress since 1998 — has never had to build a national network of donors, South noted. And while Porter’s aggressive style may have worked in questioning witnesses during congressional hearings, it may not have resonated with voters and donors, South said.

The two candidates’ failure to advance out of the primary shows an “ongoing struggle” for progressives to break through, Geevarghese said.

“It is a problem that the progressive movement got splintered in California,” he said. “There is an establishment Democratic bloc that does have the reins on power. Whether it’s through the party, and then through their candidates, it’s challenging for our movement to be able to break through.” 

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *