California Senate Debate: Katie Porter Attacks Adam Schiff, Candidates Oppose Immigration Bill And Support AI Regulation

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There were few surprises at the third and likely final pre-primary meet up of the four leading candidates for California’s open U.S. Senate seat, a race increasingly defined by a race for No. 2 behind front-runner Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).

The NBC4/KNBC and Telemundo 52/KVEA event at Universal Studios was perhaps the most muted of all three debates, with few fireworks and the candidates often reverting to their talking points.

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Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) focused her attacks on Schiff, her colleague in the House, including a tiff over the value of earmarks.

“For too many decades, Washington does sweetheart deals for certain defense contractors through earmarks,” Porter said. “And there is a candidate on this stage who has done that, again and again, getting earmarks for his private corporate donors who are big defense contractors.”

Schiff responded, “We have a strong disagreement over whether senators should bring back resources for their state. I believe that they should. Senator Porter doesn’t believe they should. She prefers a political talking point.”

A poll on Tuesday showed Schiff leading, but Republican Steve Garvey moving solidly into the second place spot. The Emerson College Polling/Inside California Politics/The Hill survey showed Schiff with 28%, Garvey with 22%, Porter with 16% and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) at 9%.

The top two finishers in the primary will go on to the general election, regardless of party.

That has created some interesting dynamics, as Schiff has devoted ad resources to spotlighting Garvey’s positions, a move that Porter has called “cynical.” Her point is that Schiff is trying to boost the visibility of an under-funded Republican rival in hopes of having an easier time of facing him in the November election, rather than a fellow Democrat. Porter, meanwhile, has countered with digital ads spotlighting another Republican in the race, Eric Early. Early, though, was not invited to the debate.

Another highlight of the Tuesday evening debate was on the issue of immigration and the border. All four candidates on the stage said that they would have opposed the bipartisan border compromise reached in the Senate earlier this month, only to fail to make it to the floor.

“Immigration reform should include comprehensive immigration reform,” Lee said. “It should be humane. It should have provisions for being orderly and it should have due process, and this did not have due process.”

Garvey said, “There were too many things packed in there, too many things hidden. I would have voted against it.”

There was a reference during the debate to AI, including its impact on the entertainment workforce. All of the candidates called for regulation, even as top tech companies will be among their constituents.

“We’re going to make sure we have strong regulation of AI to protect the public good,” Schiff said. “We cannot afford to make the mistakes we did with social media when essentially we gave them free rein to do as they would with this great experiment in which we were all the subject.”

Lee said, “Look at what is happening to our young people with no guardrails.” She said that AI would help with the climate crisis, education and health care, but “we have to be careful that it’s not used to discriminate against people because there’s some real issues around racial justice that we have to address.”

Garvey said AI “is here to stay.” He has railed against excessive regulation, but when it comes to AI said, “I am concerned that it is starting to eliminate white collar and blue collar jobs…I believe it is going to have to be regulated eventually, because once it starts affecting you and I, and once it starts affected Californians, that’s when we have to have regulation.”

Noting her role as a consumer advocate, Porter said that the interests “that are backing AI are the same handful of ultra wealthy billionaires who are backing ads that spread false truths about me. The touchstone ought to be safety, privacy and competition. Those are the things we ought to be thinking about, and what we got right now is none of those things.”

According to AdImpact, the California primary is the most expensive of all Senate elections so far this year, with $49.5 million spent on ads. About $28.2 million has gone to support Schiff, followed by $14.6 million for Porter and $1.3 million for Lee. Anti-Porter spots, though, make up $5.4 million of the total. The independent group Fairshake, a cryptocurrency SuperPAC, has been bankrolling ads against her. Its big donors include Coinbase, Marc Andreessen and Ripple Labs.

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