With millions of ballots already mailed across the Golden State, California’s four leading U.S. Senate candidates spent their second televised debate on the defensive at times and were pressed to say whether they thought President Biden and former President Trump were too old to run for re-election.

Reps. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) and Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) and Republican candidate Steve Garvey faced tough questions from moderators: Porter was asked if he waited too long to propose solutions to California’s housing crisis; Read about her support for a $50 minimum wage and whether it would be sustainable for small businesses; and Garvey pressed him to say whether he would accept Trump’s endorsement, if it were offered.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) avoided a similar question, although he was asked whether California’s progressive criminal justice reforms had gone too far, an area in which his views have changed significantly since his first days as hard. -Democratic crime in the California Senate.

Primary ballots were sent out last week. More than 22 million Californians can vote in the election to replace Senator Dianne Feinstein, who died in September.

Recent polls have shown Schiff’s lead is widening. A poll conducted in January by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Government Studies, co-sponsored by The Times, found that 21% of likely voters backed Schiff, 17% chose Porter, 13% chose Garvey and 9% chose Read.

Garvey, who played first base for the Dodgers and San Diego Padres, is seeking to appeal to the dwindling but significant number of registered Republicans across the Golden State, as well as “no party preference” voters and Democrats. registered who believe their party has failed to address homelessness, the high cost of living and other pressing issues.

“These are three career politicians who have failed the people,” Garvey said during a discussion about the state’s affordability crisis. With a combined 60 years of experience between Lee, Porter and Schiff, he said, “they could have solved this problem.”

In the final weeks of the primary campaign, Porter and Schiff have unleashed a multimillion-dollar barrage of television and radio advertising. A new ad campaign by Schiff and his supporters focuses on Garvey, calling him “too conservative for California” and loyal to Trump, a strategy that will likely boost the political newcomer’s profile among Republicans.

If Garvey solidifies Republican support, he could finish in the top two in the primary, which is all he needs to advance to the November general election. For Schiff, boosting Garvey could help knock Porter out of the November election, easing his path to victory.

Porter’s campaign ads focus on his reputation in Congress as an irritant to Washington’s entrenched political hierarchy, touting that he has an independent streak and is not beholden to corporate interests. On Monday he mentioned his work on the House Oversight Committee questioning Wall Street CEOs and said he would take that kind of pointed investigation to the Senate.

The four candidates were asked if they thought Biden, 81, and Trump, 77, were too old to run for a second term. In other words, everyone said no.

Biden’s age became a major issue in the 2024 presidential race after a special prosecutor investigating whether Biden mishandled classified documents during his previous roles as vice president and senator claimed the president could not remember important milestones in his life. .

“I have to say, experience matters,” Lee, 77, said. “With respect to term limits and age limits, this is a democracy: people have the right to vote for whoever they want to vote for.”

“All of us, in our own minds and with our own eyes and ears, have to make that determination,” Garvey, 75, said.

During the fast-paced, hour-long debate, hosted by San Francisco’s Nexstar affiliate KRON 4 and broadcast on news stations across the state, Schiff said Trump was unfit for office at any age and accused Garvey of supporting the former president despite his failed attempt to overthrow the president. the results of the 2020 presidential election. Garvey has said that he voted for Trump in the 2016 and 2020 elections.

When asked if he had spoken to Trump since he launched his campaign or if he would accept his endorsement, Garvey initially avoided questions but ultimately said he and the former president had not spoken. He declined to say whether he would accept Trump’s endorsement.

“These are personal decisions,” Garvey said. “I answer to God, my wife, my family and the people of California. And I hope they respect the fact that I have personal choices.”

Lee largely avoided discussion during the debate, but was asked to explain how his support for a $50 minimum wage (nearly seven times the national minimum wage of $7.25 an hour) would be economically viable for business owners. small companies. Given the high cost of living in California, he said, the salary was necessary for families to make ends meet, but he implied that it would not apply nationwide.

“I have to focus on what California needs and what the affordability factor is,” he said.

Porter was asked why he waited until last week to release a plan to fix California’s housing crisis, one of the biggest problems facing the state. She responded that she had been working on the issue throughout her legal career advocating for consumer rights and since she first came to Congress in 2018, and that she has firsthand experience.

“My own children wonder if they will be able to live in California when they graduate high school because of the high cost of living,” Porter said.

The moderators, KTLA 5’s Frank Buckley and Fox 40’s Nikki Laurenzo, asked Schiff if he thought progressive criminal justice reforms, including eliminating cash bail for nonviolent crimes and reducing some felonies to minor crimes, had “gone too far.”

Schiff said there is “no question that we have a crime problem in California, particularly these violent robberies,” but said the data does not suggest that progressive criminal justice reforms are to blame. Instead, she said, the state needs to invest more in community policing.

“I’ve been focused on trying to keep communities safe since I was a prosecutor,” Schiff said. “When Mr. Garvey played baseball, I prosecuted cases at the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.”

Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, campaigned for state Senate in 1996 on a tough-on-crime platform and told voters he supported the state’s three-strike law and the death penalty.

Schiff told The Times last week that while “there was certainly a time when I supported the death penalty for those who killed police officers and those who killed children,” he no longer supports capital punishment.

After the debate, Lee, who served in the California Legislature at the same time as Schiff, said their contrasting views on the issue offered a clear choice for voters. He recalled sponsoring a bill that would have reformed the state’s “three strikes” law, which Schiff voted against.

“The difference between us is that I looked at criminal justice reform and public safety holistically and that increased sentences don’t necessarily mean reduced crime,” he said.

By Sam