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Schiff to face Garvey for California's Senate seat, Prop. 1 takes an early lead

NORWALK-CA-MARCH 4, 2024: Mary Ann Roby, 72, of Downey, votes in the California primary election at the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder in Norwalk on March 4, 2024. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
Mary Ann Roby of Downey votes in the California primary on Monday at the Los Angeles County registrar-recorder's office in Norwalk. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) will face Republican and former Dodgers All-Star Steve Garvey in the race to be California's newest senator, and President Biden and former President Trump handily won their respective party primaries Tuesday night.

Proposition 1, Gov. Gavin Newsom's legacy-staking statewide measure that would pour billions of dollars into new supportive housing and treatment beds for unhoused Californians, was slightly ahead in early results Tuesday, though its future remained up in the air.

Several tight congressional races in California, which could reshape the razor-thin majority Republicans currently hold in the House of Representatives, also remain up for grabs.

For the first time, California joined 15 other states and American Samoa in the mammoth Super Tuesday primary day, delivering a slew of delegates to presidential candidates.

Read more: Voting last minute in the California primary election? Here's your guide

The fight to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Sen. Dianne Feinstein's death last year has been shaping up as a two-way race between Schiff and Garvey for the past few weeks. The Associated Press called Schiff and Garvey as finishing in the top two places Tuesday night — with Schiff leading both to complete Feinstein's unexpired term from November to January and to fill the next six-year Senate term.

Support for Reps. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) and Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), the other top contenders for the race, lagged in the final weeks of the campaign. Porter, a competitive candidate at the beginning of the race, was attacked in an expensive barrage of negative political ads paid for by cryptocurrency executives. Schiff’s campaign also pumped money into ads that appeared to help Garvey consolidate the Republican vote in California. For Schiff, Garvey would be a less formidable opponent than Porter in the November election. Political action committees have poured more than $21 million into the Senate race.

Still, Long Beach resident Bo Tobin happily sported a bright orange "Katie Porter for Senate" T-shirt as he rode his bike into his polling place Monday afternoon.

"I think she's incredibly intelligent, and she makes things very clear and accessible," said Tobin, 56, a registered Democrat. Porter has famously drilled people in congressional hearings with questions, using a whiteboard to illustrate her points.

Tobin found the fact that Schiff did not support a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war troublesome. He also questioned Schiff for giving up his seniority as a leader in the House to become a freshman senator.

The seat for Senate appeared twice on California's ballot — once to fill the remainder of Feinstein’s term, from the general election in November until the new term in January, and another for the full six-year term beginning in January. After Feinstein died last year, Newsom appointed Laphonza Butler, a union activist and former leader of Emily’s List, to the position. Butler chose not to run for a full term.

Conclusive results could take days or weeks to emerge in some of the tightest races, including congressional, legislative and local races.

California's presidential primary has much less drama and intrigue.

Looking toward the one-on-one face-off in November, a recent poll showed that Biden enjoys a comfortable lead in left-leaning California, though his margin over Trump has narrowed in the last three years he’s been in office. A UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll shows that Biden leads Trump by 18 points statewide — but even less if independent and minor-party candidates, including Jill Stein and Cornel West, are included. Some Democratic voters cited Biden's handling of the Israel-Hamas war and his age as major factors working against him in the 2024 election.

"I will speak as a 70-year-old," said Lynne, a registered Republican from Long Beach who declined to give her last name. "I think both candidates are too old to be the president of the United States."

Standing outside her local polling place, Lynne said Trump did not carry out traditionally Republican philosophy. His criminal charges should disqualify him as a presidential candidate, she added.

"How do we look to other parts of the world?" she said. "We're a joke in some places. ... You have a guy who's got felony charges against him, but he's running for president!"

Speaking to supporters at his private club Mar-a-lago Tuesday night, Trump reiterated his campaign promises to close the country's borders, drill for oil and drive down inflation.

"We're going to take back our country," he said. "We're going to have the greatest economy ever in the history of our country. We're going to top what we did."

The future of former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley's campaign remained murky after another series of defeats — though she did win the Republican nomination in Vermont, the Associated Press projected Tuesday night. She had pledged to stay in the race for the Republican nomination through Super Tuesday, despite trailing Trump by double digits in nearly every other primary so far, including in her home state of South Carolina. Haley won the District of Columbia last weekend.

Read more: Voter guide to the 2024 California primary election

Typically, primaries in a presidential year provoke strong turnout, but early returns have shown lackluster results. As of Monday, about 3 million vote-by-mail ballots had been returned, according to California's secretary of state — a fraction of the 22.3 million ballots sent to voters’ mailboxes.

Lynn Vavreck, professor of political science at UCLA, said she expects abortion rights to be a major issue driving voters to the polls for primaries nationwide, much like in the 2022 midterm elections. And even though foreign policy doesn’t typically figure much into presidential election years, Vavreck said, the Israel-Hamas and Ukraine-Russia wars are likely to be pivotal issues for voters this year.

“Even if politics in the U.S. seems uninspiring to people at the moment — the candidates, maybe they seem uninspiring to people — those two global conflicts are good reminders for people that there's important stuff happening globally,” Vavreck said. “And that may work to remind people, ‘Oh, there's a primary coming up.’"

“There's still a lot of things happening,” she added. “And that's probably good for turnout.”

Pro-Palestinian voters who are angered by Biden's handling of the conflict have marked protest votes in the New Hampshire and Michigan primaries — by writing in “cease-fire” and voting “uncommitted,” respectively. The Council on American-Islamic Relations encouraged its members to vote Tuesday, even if that meant leaving the presidential ballot blank.

Read more: California's 2024 U.S. Senate race could be a hot one

“We’ve heard from some in our community that they don’t want to vote in the presidential election due to the current violence in Gaza,” Monica Rahim, senior policy and advocacy manager for CAIR-LA, said in a statement. “We continue to emphasize that that should not mean that they don’t vote at all. It is still important to make their voice heard by voting in the down-ballot races.”

Democratic voter Richard Richina, 74, said Biden is on the right side of many issues, but "maybe a bit too strident" in his handling of the Middle East conflict.

"I think he could be a little more forceful in terms of trying to rein in" Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Richina, who rode his bike to his local Long Beach polling place after a morning yoga session.

A poll in January by the Institute of Governmental Studies, co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times, found that California voters younger than 30 were far more likely to sympathize with Palestinians than with Israelis, while those older than 65 side with Israel.

On Tuesday, California voters also weighed in on Proposition 1, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposal to reform the state’s mental health offerings, especially for unhoused people. In a Berkeley/L.A. Times poll released last week, half of likely voters supported Proposition 1, which has bipartisan support in the state Legislature. Still, while several major Republicans have endorsed it, a majority of GOP voters oppose the measure, the poll found.

Proposition 1 would reconfigure the state’s 20-year-old Mental Health Services Act in order to allocate $1 billion to supportive housing. It would also include a $6.4-billion bond to provide 10,000 new treatment beds. Proposition 1 is Newsom’s biggest effort to curb homelessness, one of California voters’ top issues.

In Santa Cruz, one of the cities in the state that is most squeezed for housing, voters will decide on Measure M, which would require a vote for any development that exceeds current zoning restrictions. A push for high-rises has created divisions in the famously laid-back California community, where local activists put the measure on the ballot.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.