In California’s pivotal Senate race, former baseball star Steve Garvey has catapulted to first in the latest poll without spending anything on TV ads. Ironically, he may partly have his Democratic competitor Rep. Adam Schiff to thank for the sudden surge.

Schiff’s Ads Give Unexpected Boost

Over 60% of Schiff’s pricey TV ad buys have explicitly named Garvey, spotlighting his conservative positions. Pundits believe this strategy aims to consolidate Republican votes behind Garvey in the open primary.

Source: Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Since California is deeply blue, Schiff likely prefers facing off against a Republican in the general election rather than his Democratic House colleague Rep. Katie Porter. No GOP candidate has won statewide since 2006.

Pricey, Nasty Race Intensifies

The Senate contest has already broken records as the most expensive in California history, with over $65 million spent on ads so far. Schiff leads the pack with nearly $45 million supporting his campaign.

Source: revenueriver

Porter has called Schiff “cynical” for highlighting Garvey in his attack ads instead of her. She’s now running spots against lesser-known Republican Eric Early as too extreme for California, trying to counter Schiff’s strategy.

Ad Blitz Blankets Airwaves

Down the final campaign stretch, both Schiff and Porter have flooded the airwaves with a blistering number of last-minute TV spots. Schiff alone ordered almost $300,000 of ads on one Los Angeles station for this weekend.

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The nonstop bombardment of advertising aims to sway undecided voters in the days right before Tuesday’s pivotal primary. According to polls, Schiff still leads handily, but his elevation of the Republican Garvey may have tightened the race.

Hollywood Split on Backing

While Schiff and Porter have traded barbs in recent debates, most celebrity backers are avoiding taking sides between the two Democrats. Jane Fonda endorsed Porter but also said she admires Schiff, showing a reluctance to burn bridges.

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On the fundraising circuit, Schiff frequently taps industry figures for support, recently getting Billy Crystal to promote him. In contrast, a video from John Legend calls Congresswoman Barbara Lee “the real deal” on criminal justice reform.

Late Deciders Hold Key

Analysts say with some voters still uncommitted, the ultimate victor relies on who swoons this last-minute slice of the electorate in the campaign homestretch. Both Schiff and Porter are making plays for these late deciders with their 11th-hour barrage of ads.

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Experts note Schiff’s unexpected promotion of the Republican Garvey also aims to panic undecided Democrats into consolidating around Schiff as the strongest candidate against a GOP contender. The tactic may be risky but could clinch Schiff’s first-place finish.

Attack Ads Question Ethics

Negative spots flooding the airwaves in the race’s final days are targeting character as much as policy. One anti-Schiff ad resurrects dubious loans he received decades ago, while an anti-Porter spot questions fees from corporate clients as a law professor.

Source: Flickr/Wilson Center

The mudslinging aims to raise doubts about ethics right when voters are finalizing decisions. Some strategists warn the attacks could backfire by disgusting more voters. But historically, as other close contests show, they tend to leave a mark on frontrunners.

Voter Turnout Hard To Predict

With widespread early voting already underway, analysts say it’s tricky to forecast total turnout on Tuesday. Factors like anger over hot-button issues and Schiff elevating a Republican challenger could drive more voters to the polls.

Source: Flickr/Katie Porter Campaign

But voter fatigue after the midterms just months ago may depress turnout. And over 20 Democrats crowding the ballot could also overwhelm some voters. Both Schiff and Porter have extensive field campaigns trying to turn out loyal supporters.

Top-Two Rules Shake Up Race

California’s unique top-two open primary often produces surprises, since the first and second-place candidates move onto November regardless of party. Pundits say Schiff may manipulate that system with his unorthodox promotion of the Republican Garvey.

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Some analysts argue the top-two format encourages negative campaigning since competitors want to drag down rivals within their party. True to form, Porter has hit Schiff for giving Garvey “free advertising,” while slamming lesser GOP candidate Early.

State GOP Smells Rare Opportunity

Ever since Schiff spotlighted Garvey as a foil in attack ads, state Republican groups have rallied around the former baseball star’s longshot bid to exploit a rare opening. Though no GOP candidate has won statewide office in decades, they argue Garvey gives them an outside chance.

Source: Flickr/Mike Licht

Energized by Schiff’s attacks on Garvey for his conservative credentials, Republican volunteers are canvassing to get out the vote for him. Though lacking his Democratic rivals’ war chests, Garvey’s surprise rise in polls has given the state GOP a glimmer of hope to grab a Senate seat.

Historic Race Draws Millions

According to the latest fundraising figures, the 2024 Senate contest has now attracted over $200 million in total donations so far. That mammoth amount already doubles any prior statewide race in California’s history with months still left until November’s general election.

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Experts attribute the unparalleled fundraising haul to Schiff and Porter’s national profiles, as well as fury on both sides over hot-button Senate issues like climate change, healthcare, and abortion access riding on the outcome of this race.

Late Polling Mixed On Frontrunner

Heading into election day, polls disagree on whether Schiff’s unusual strategy of promoting Republican Garvey has succeeded in protecting his frontrunner status. Some surveys show Garvey edging ahead as Schiff dips, while others maintain Schiff’s consistent lead throughout the race.

Source: Flickr/Nancy Pelosi

Political scientists warn that volatile factors like shifting views on cultural flashpoints, voter fatigue, and unexpected demographics turning out could produce Election Night surprises. Due to widespread early and mail balloting, final results may not be known for days or even weeks after Tuesday.

Fresh Face or Experience?

As their dueling ads argue, voters face a choice between Schiff’s three decades of government experience or Porter’s outside crusader credentials. Supporters call Schiff battle-tested to push legislation through Congress, while fans praise Porter as a fighter beholden to no interests.

Source: Flickr/Katie Porter Campaign

Their contrasts frame larger questions the race embodies: Does seniority in D.C. deliver results or perpetuate stagnation? After years of failed attempts, do crusading reformers provide the best hope for seismic change? Tuesday’s outcome won’t resolve these quandaries but may shift their trajectories.

 High Stakes Beyond State

Due to the 50-50 split Senate, pundits say the Golden State race has massive implications nationally. If Democrats flip this seat, they greatly strengthen their chances of retaining Congress amid a tough 2024 map. But a Republican pickup imperils Biden’s agenda while empowering conservatives.

Source: Flickr/Mark Fischer

Consequently, groups across the political spectrum are heavily invested in the race. Environmentalists, unions, and immigration reformers back Porter or Schiff, while anti-tax Club for Growth funded ads boosting Garvey. All eyes turn west to see if Democrats pad their margin or GOP stages a comeback.