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Californians are voting on a Senate seat that hasn't been open since 1992

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

California holds its primary on Tuesday. It's an open primary, meaning candidates from both parties run together, with the top two advancing to the general election. Four prominent candidates want those two slots to contend against each other in the fall, to replace the late Senator Dianne Feinstein. Marisa Lagos said our member station KQED in San Francisco is watching all of this. Good morning.

MARISA LAGOS, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, who's winning right now?

LAGOS: Well, according to polling, it's kind of neck and neck between former L.A. Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey - he's a Republican - and LA Congressman Adam Schiff. You might remember him from the impeachment inquiry - the first one - of former President Trump, or maybe from cable news, where he's been a really outspoken critic of Trump and MAGA Republicans generally.

INSKEEP: OK.

LAGOS: And you also then have two other Democrats - longtime Democratic Oakland Congresswoman Barbara Lee, sort of a real progressive in the race, and Orange County Representative Katie Porter. You might remember her armed with a whiteboard, grilling executives in House committee hearings. She's been running kind of more of an outsider campaign.

INSKEEP: I guess it matches California somewhat that you would have three Democrats in a heavily Democratic state and one Republican at this point. And then when I think of these three Democrats, I imagine them representing or appealing to different factions of the Democratic coalition.

LAGOS: I think that's right. You know, Barbara Lee is, as I said, a real dyed-in-the-wool progressive, a kind of antiwar platform. Schiff has really been running as an establishment Democrat. He's been endorsed by the vast majority of the California Democrats who are in Congress, including the former speaker, Nancy Pelosi. And he's really sort of presented himself as able to take the fight to Trump and carry on Feinstein's legacy. He told me this in an interview last week.

ADAM SCHIFF: She had the guts and the determination to take on really big fights. But she had another skill, too. And that skill was she was somebody who got things done. She wasn't just somebody who talked a good game. She was a doer. I mean, in Congress, you've got the talkers and the doers, and you can pretty well very easily determine who is who.

INSKEEP: Has he determined who he thinks is a talker or a doer?

LAGOS: Yeah, I think that was a clear swipe, if you've been paying attention, at Porter, who's really nurtured this outsider status. You know, she wants to do things like ban stock trades among members of Congress. And she told me in an interview that, you know, those types of positions have turned off some of her colleagues, but she thinks that's why she's been reelected twice to a really purple, difficult for Democrats House seat.

KATIE PORTER: I had a lobbyist tell me, oh, you're one of those - those no corporate PAC people. We'll break you. You'll see you won't be able to get elected without our money. And I think one of the things that I have shown is that grassroots fundraising, standing up to big corporations - this is what Californians want.

INSKEEP: So those are the personalities. What are you looking for as the election day approaches?

LAGOS: You know, Schiff has led in almost every poll, and he does seem pretty safe to get a spot in the November runoff. I do think that, you know, his taking the fight to Trump and all of that has been resonating with Democrats. And the second spot is really up for grabs. In recent weeks, it does appear to be between Porter and Garvey, that former baseball player. Republican polls are showing he really has been able to consolidate the Republican and conservative vote. One final note - this might be Schiff's preference. He actually ran ads propping up Steve Garvey. So if he gets that runoff, it'll be what he asked for.

INSKEEP: Ah, he thinks he can beat a Republican in the fall, but might face a problem with a fellow Democrat in the fall.

LAGOS: Exactly. And he would much prefer that easier race against a Republican in this deep blue state.

INSKEEP: Marisa Lagos of KQED. Thanks.

LAGOS: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Marisa Lagos