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Schiff blasts Porter’s ‘purity tests’ in Senate debate

With two weeks to go before the March 5 primary, Porter acted like the candidate facing the highest stakes – the prospect of being boxed out of the November general election by Steve Garvey, the Republican ex-baseball phenom who has benefited handsomely from
a flood of Schiff-financed ads elevating his profile among GOP voters.

Throughout the evening, Porter lobbed spitballs at Garvey, and even foes not on stage, including another middling GOP candidate and the financiers of a “dark shady super PAC” running ads against her. But one clear focal point for the Orange County congressmember stood apart.

Porter picks her target

Forget Porter’s quippy pile-ons against Garvey from the
first Senate debate. In this forum, hosted by NBC4 and Telemundo 52, she maintained a relentless focus on her fellow Democrat, taking every opportunity she could to tie him to corporate interests and the old ways of Washington.

She hammered him for not signing on to bills to address childcare costs or provide rental assistance, despite proposing such policies during his Senate run — the difference, she said, “between Congressman Schiff and candidate Schiff.” She dinged him for requesting earmarks for for-profit companies, a reference to
a POLITICO report on Schiff’s previous appropriations request for defense contractors.

The early salvos did little to ruffle Schiff’s implacable demeanor, as he smoothly pivoted to tout other bills he had authored and dismissed Porter’s earmark attack as a “political talking point.”

But Porter’s continual jabs eventually roused Schiff to engage, accusing her of taking thousands of dollars from people working in industries reviled by Democrats, such as oil and pharmaceutical companies and Wall Street.

“The problem with purity tests as Representative Porter likes to establish is invariably the people establishing them don’t meet them,” he shot back.

It was the type of direct Democrat-on-Democrat sparring that Schiff has largely avoided this campaign, preferring to portray this race as a contest against Garvey to ensure an easier competitor in the general election.

Border bill goes bust

Before it died in the Senate earlier this month, the bipartisan border security bill put the Democratic candidates in a tricky spot. President Joe Biden backed the package, but California Sen. Alex Padilla was among
its loudest opponents, arguing it gave conservatives too much without advancing the cause of comprehensive immigration reform.

Rep. Barbara Lee, the third Democrat among the top candidates who’s polling in fourth place, spoke out against the package before it failed. Her competitors Schiff and Porter held back on expressing their views – until Tuesday night.

Schiff and Porter joined Lee in opposing the proposal.

“It’s not surprising the package turned out so lopsided,” Schiff said, pointing to the fact that Padilla and other border-state Democrats were not involved in the negotiations. “I would support a package that had a comprehensive immigration reform. This was not that.”

Porter levied even harsher critiques, saying the bill “demonized immigrants by trying to ignore the fact they come here seeking a better life.”

“If we’re going to have a strong economy in the future, we should be focusing on the real problems like fentanyl, human trafficking and gun trafficking,” she said.

Garvey also said he would oppose the bill for having “too many things packed in there” — without specifying which provisions he opposed.

Lee pulls punches

Lee’s strategy throughout the three Senate debates can be succinctly summed up as “the personal is political.” In a bid to make up for her lagging fundraising and airtime, she used her time on stage to tell voters her life story.

Her biography has clear and compelling crossover with issues on voters’ minds, such as her childhood roots in a border town informing her outlook on immigration or her status as a single mother informing her view of gaps in the social safety net.

But she only glancingly used that background as a way to explicitly contrast herself from her opponents.

“I don’t think my opponents here tonight have ever lived in a neighborhood where a smelter was emitting toxic pollutants and chemicals throughout their childhood,” Lee said when asked about climate change, saying growing up in El Paso instilled in her the importance of environmental justice for minority communities.

Despite positioning herself as the progressive standard bearer in the race, she did not capitalize when Schiff was asked about the tough-on-crime legislation he passed as a state legislator in the 1990s – a position that had earned Schiff some blowback from the Democratic left flank.

Schiff, for his part, said he “certainly wouldn’t offer some of that legislation again,” before pitching his other efforts on criminal justice reform.

The dog ate Garvey’s homework

No one will accuse Garvey of focusing too much on the specifics. The first-time candidate has settled on a debate formula that is heavy on platitudes, light on details – and sometimes facts.

Garvey asserted Biden “turned off gas and oil,” leading to spiking energy costs – while in fact, domestic energy production has reached record highs under the current administration.

After stating several times that America is “the torchbearer for democracy,” Garvey was asked to square that sentiment with his previous votes for Donald Trump, who has repeatedly criticized NATO, much to the discomfort of America’s democratic allies in Europe.

Garvey, as he often does with issues regarding Trump, sidestepped the question.

“I look into this camera and talk to the citizens of California…As your senator, I will do everything to maintain your security,” he said, adding he was not focused on any particular person but “38 million Californians and 330 million Americans.”

The non-answer gave Porter the opportunity to trot out her eleventh-hour bid to blunt Garvey’s momentum by portraying him as squishy on Trump.

Instead, she plugged Eric Early, a lesser-known conservative candidate who has failed to qualify for any of the debates, in hopes that the free publicity will peel a few GOP voters his way – and ease her path to November.

“There is a Republican that is dangerous in this race,” Porter said, “and that’s Trump Republican Eric Early, who has said he will be 100 percent MAGA at all time.”

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