Schiff boosts Republican Garvey in new TV ad. Porter rips him as ‘cynical’

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff is making crystal clear who he would rather run against in November, releasing a new TV ad Thursday that contrasts himself with Republican former Major League ballplayer Steve Garvey.

Schiff’s ad describes Garvey as too conservative for California — “he voted for Trump, twice, and supported Republicans for years, including far right conservatives.”

It’s hardly a new approach — with candidates from both parties employing the bank-shot strategy to boost an opponent for the primary whom they view as less of a threat to them in a runoff or general election.

Garvey, a first-time contender with little chance of winning an election in deep blue California, has barely raised enough money to run an operation and lacks the resources to air TV ads of his own. The assist from Schiff — which sends a strong signal to Republican voters in the state that Garvey should be their choice — comes just as the GOP candidate and Democrat Katie Porter are battling for a second-place finish on March 5 to advance to the fall runoff.

Porter blasted Schiff out of the gate, calling the tactic “cynical” and saying the Congress member acted out of fear he would fall to Porter in a November matchup.

“Adam Schiff knows he will lose to me in November. That’s what this brazenly cynical ad is about — furthering his own political career, boxing out qualified Democratic women candidates, and boosting a Republican candidate to do it. We need honest leadership, not political games,” Porter wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Nora Walsh-DeVries, Porter’s chief of staff, added, “I would not want to run against Katie Porter in a general election either!!”

Schiff’s camp, in a statement to POLITICO, defended its decision to target Garvey, ignoring Porter’s broadside and contending that Garvey’s candidacy poses the biggest threat to Californians.

“No one in this race has fought harder than Adam when it comes to protecting our democracy, our economy, and our planet. Steve Garvey will be a rubber stamp for Donald Trump’s extreme agenda if elected. California voters deserve to know the differences between the two top-polling candidates,” said Marisol Samayoa, a spokesperson for the Schiff campaign.

Porter and Garvey have been running neck in neck in public polls, and Porter herself went after Garvey in the race’s first debate on Jan. 22, sponsored by POLITICO.

Some outside groups supportive of Schiff have privately suggested they were considering running ads of their own pointing out Garvey’s past support of Trump.

The approach has become somewhat common in California, where the top-two finishers regardless of their political party meet again in a fall rematch. Gov. Gavin Newsom ran a contrasting campaign against wealthy Republican John Cox in his first race for governor in 2018, stunting Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa’s chances. Newsom did it again in 2022. And Attorney General Rob Bonta, a Democrat, promoted Republican Eric Early in his 2022 campaign.

“Republicans for statewide office can’t raise any money so they aren’t masters of their own fate,” said Jon Fleischman, a former executive director of the California Republican Party and strategist who has lamented the top-two primary as well-intentioned but allowing for too much gamesmanship. “These ads from Schiff will do more to promote Garvey than anything Garvey can do on his own.”

Still, Fleischman called Schiff’s ads “smart.”

“If he can successfully bring Garvey into the runoff with him, then his campaign is over and he won’t have to spend any money because we live in a blue state and a Republican isn’t viable statewide,” he said.

Matt Shupe, Garvey’s spokesperson, characterized the spot as a “trite political hatchet job.”

“Steve Garvey’s campaign has always been and will continue to be about bringing all Californians together for commonsense, compassionate solutions to today’s real problems, not trite political hatchet jobs. Californians are tired of this divisive rhetoric that aims to separate us into simple buckets against ourselves rather than unite us in common cause to better all of our lives. This is why Steve Garvey continues to rise in the polls.”

Perhaps the most enduring example of this was Missouri’s former Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, whose 2012 ads held up then-Republican Rep. Todd Akin as “the most conservative congressman in Missouri” and “Missouri’s true conservative.”

McCaskill’s campaign billed the spots as an aggressive effort to tarnish Akin’s standing in the race. Three years later, POLITICO Magazineran an excerpt from her book, which ran under the headline “How I Helped Todd Akin Win — So I Could Beat Him Later.”

But the tactic has come under more scrutiny in the Trump era, with Democrats in key battleground states receiving criticism for playing with fire by promoting hard-line MAGA Republicans and election deniers even as they claim that democracy is under threat.

That argument could be particularly damaging to Schiff, who’s billed himself as a strong defender of democracy following his role as lead prosecutor in the first Trump impeachment hearings. Though it’s not as potent in California compared with a state like Pennsylvania or Colorado where Democrats aren’t as dominant.

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