Opinion: Steve Garvey vs. Adam Schiff is the matchup California needs

Opinion: Steve Garvey vs. Adam Schiff is the matchup California needs - Politics - News

The Top-Two Primary System in California: Enhancing Competition or Creating Perverse Incentives?

The recent US Senate primary election in California, which saw Rep. Katie Porter’s unsuccessful bid to advance, has sparked a heated debate about the efficacy of the top-two primary system in place in the state. The controversial electoral method, which allows the top two candidates to advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation, has been a source of contention among both Republicans and Democrats.

California’s top-two primary system was introduced with the goal of enhancing political competition, promoting more moderate candidates, and improving voter turnout. However, the jury is still out on whether it has definitively achieved these objectives. In this year’s primary election, Rep. Adam Schiff and Steve Garvey, a former Major League Baseball star, advanced to the November elections, leaving Porter and fellow Democrat Rep. Barbara Lee as notable losers.

Porter’s disappointment turned to frustration when she attributed her loss to “billionaires” attempting to rig the election. However, it’s essential to acknowledge that the term “rigged” was popularized by former President Donald Trump following his 2020 election defeat. Instead, Porter’s grievance lies with the top-two primary system itself.

The controversy surrounding California’s top-two primary system is largely rooted in its potential for political gamesmanship. In the US Senate race, Schiff’s campaign spent an astounding $12 million, while allied groups added another $7 million on advertisements, mailers, and voter outreach aimed at boosting Garvey’s standing among Republicans.

Schiff’s strategy was to position Garvey as a “far right conservative” to create a more favorable matchup for himself in the general election. Porter, on the other hand, resorted to similar tactics by spending money to boost Garvey’s main Republican opponent, Eric Early.

While the top-two system does come with its imperfections and creates some perverse incentives, Porter’s loss cannot be attributed solely to it. In her campaign, she made several missteps, including declaring her candidacy before the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein had announced her retirement. Her campaign was targeted at a younger and more progressive demographic, which had lower turnout in the election. Additionally, she entered a crowded field with more established opponents, such as Schiff and Lee.

In contrast, Garvey effectively utilized California’s top-two primary system by reminding voters of his athletic past, focusing on issues that mattered to Californians (homelessness and inflation), and even securing the ballot designation of “professional baseball representative.” His limited resources were no match for his opponents in terms of advertising, but his media coverage and focus on issues helped him secure about a third of the primary vote.

To compete in the general election, Garvey must attract support beyond the roughly 24% of California voters who are registered Republicans. His celebrity and ability to connect with voters on a personal level rather than as a politician make him a viable statewide candidate, albeit facing an uphill performance.

Californians will have a clear choice in November, and the top-two primary system delivered exactly what it was intended to: a contrast between the two candidates for the Senate. Despite complaints from partisans on both sides, this instance demonstrates that the top-two primary system can indeed function as intended.