Porter defends ad highlighting little-known GOP rival in Senate race

Rep. Katie Porter, who accused her main Democratic rival in the Senate race of cynicism for attempting to prop up a Republican in the contest, is now doing the same.

The Irvine congresswoman, who is battling with Republican former baseball player Steve Garvey to come in second place in the March 5 primary, is running digital ads touting the conservative credentials of one of Garvey’s GOP rivals.

The Facebook ads argue that Eric Early, an attorney and perennial candidate who polls in the low single digits in the Senate contest, is the true conservative in the race.

Rep. Katie Porter greets supporters at a campaign event.Rep. Katie Porter greets supporters at a campaign event.

Rep. Katie Porter, who is running for the late Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat, greets supporters at a campaign event at Lola’s Mexican Cuisine on Saturday in Long Beach. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

“Who’s the real Republican threat in the California Senate race? MAGA Republican Eric Early proudly stands with Donald Trump, while Steve Garvey refuses to tell us who he supports. Garvey claimed he might even vote for Joe Biden. Get the facts,” the Facebook post says.

Though the ad ostensibly criticizes Early, it is similar to other recent Democratic efforts to boost a Republican’s standing in an election, a byproduct of the state’s open primary system. The top two vote-getters in March move on to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. While Democrats dominate California voter rolls, if Republicans consolidate behind one candidate in a crowded field, he or she could win one of those two spots.

If Porter’s ad increases support for Early among GOP voters, that would eat into Garvey’s support, possibly allowing Porter to win the second spot.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) appears assured to win the top spot in the primary based on polling. His campaign as well as a super PAC backing his bid are spending millions of dollars running television ads highlighting Garvey.

“Two leading candidates for Senate. Two very different visions for California,” a narrator intones in a Schiff campaign ad, noting later that Garvey “is too conservative for California” and voted for former President Trump twice.

At the time, Porter denounced the effort as a political ploy.

A supporter holds a sign saying I Stand With Planned Parenthood.A supporter holds a sign saying I Stand With Planned Parenthood.

A supporter holds a sign at a Katie Porter campaign event at Lola’s Mexican Cuisine on Saturday in Long Beach. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

“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,” she wrote on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “We need honest leadership, not political games.”

On Saturday, Porter argued that her message focused on Early was not the same as Schiff’s ad about Garvey.

“It’s a big difference. Because for one thing, Eric Early is the candidate who supports Trump in this race. And so we’re being honest with voters about who the MAGA conservative is, and I think that’s really important that people know that,” she told reporters after a campaign event at a Mexican restaurant in Long Beach. “And so look, this is a tough race. We’re going to get over the finish line. But I think it’s important that we are trying to get out mostly a positive message and that’s where most of our efforts are. But also we need to educate all voters about what’s at stake in the election.”

Garvey accused Porter of hypocrisy.

“This is typical behavior from career politicians. They say one thing and then do another,” he said.

Schiff and Early did not respond to requests for comment.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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