CA Senate Race: Candidates debate biggest issues impacting voters

As the 2024 election fast approaches, the four top candidates in the race for California's US Senate seat took the stage Monday night to debate the biggest issues impacting Californians. 

FOX 11 hosted the first senate debate of the election year in partnership with USC and POLITICO. 

Twenty-seven candidates are running, however the top candidates, the ones who participated in the debate, included prominent Democrats – U.S. Reps. Katie Porter, Adam Schiff and Barbara Lee — and Republican and former Los Angeles Dodger Steve Garvey.

RELATED: California Senate Race: Meet the candidates

Below is a breakdown of where each candidate stands on the following issues.


On the issue of affordable housing, all candidates agreed that buying a house is out of range for students and most Californians. Rep. Katie Porter said affordable housing is her top priority and said the problem comes from Washington... from career politicians who write housing policy.  

"What we need is housing policy that works for us, housing policy that is centered on our needs. We need more housing for our seniors, for people with disabilities, and for young people. And we are not going to get there if we let Wall Street write our housing policy," Porter said.

Rep. Adam Schiff listed a laundry list of items needed to help Californians with housing. They include increasing the low-income tax credit to incentivize the development of affordable housing, helping renters with Section 8 vouchers, and a renter’s tax credit to help renters stay housed and afford to pay rent.  

Garvey’s stance includes fixing the economy and stopping raising inflation.

"Wall Street and Main Street are completely different. California has lost 800 to a million good-paying, middle-class people because they can't start new businesses, small businesses. Let's get back to a vibrant economy. It gets people competing again, especially the building industry," Garvey stated.  

Rep. Barbara Lee empathized with those who are unhoused by sharing her own personal experience of being unhoused during a period in her life. Lee said she co-sponsored legislation calling for housing as a basic human right.  

"It's a shame and disgrace students are living in their cars. First, we have to make college tuition free. That's one thing we need to do here in California. Secondly, with regard to our young people, we have to make sure that in our housing policy we address the range of housing," Lee stated. 


Californians say homelessness is the top issue they are concerned about.  

Steve Garvey, the sole Republican on the stage, said if elected the first thing he would do as Senator is request an audit of where the billions of dollars spent on homelessness have gone.  In the past few weeks, Garvey toured Skid Row, San Diego, and Sacramento meeting the homeless and talking to them one-on-one.  After sharing his experience with the crowd, Barabra Lee, who was once homeless, criticized Garvey and expressed disbelief in his experience of "walking and touching" the homeless.  

Schiff also took a jab at Garvey saying "that was a total swing and a miss. That was a total whiff of an answer. And I say that, you know, credit where credit is due. You are a hell of a ballplayer," Schiff said chuckling.  

He went on to explain that homelessness is a supply issue, saying that there simply isn’t enough housing available and hundreds of thousands of units of new housing need to be built. He also said the local government needs to quickly respond to the approval of housing, and once people find shelter they need access to mental health services and substance abuse services.

Meanwhile, Lee said preventing evictions is key to fixing the homeless problem and thinks there should be a national eviction policy. She also said the state should have more affordable housing and that the federal government should invest in the unsheltered population.

Porter says the solution to homelessness is housing and once again blames Washington’s failure for the homeless crisis. She fully supports funding Section 8 vouchers and low-cost programs to prevent eviction. "I think the bottom line is we must build more affordable housing because for every person that we help off the streets today in California, we see another person experiencing homelessness," she said. "And it's not just people experiencing street homelessness, its students living in cars, its families overcrowded in apartments." 


On the controversial topic of abortion, Garvey simply said he would support the voices of California even though he personally opposes abortion.  

Meanwhile, Porter who supports abortion rights, claims Garvey won’t follow through on his word and support abortion rights.

"Abortion is a freedom issue and no government that champions liberty and justice for all should restrict people from deciding for themselves if and when to have a child. And Mr. Garvey's party, the Republican Party, has said that if they win this election and control Congress and the House, they will pass a nationwide abortion ban that will take effect here in California. So Mr. Garvey needs to be clear about where he stands on this and actually on all the other issues," Porter explained. She added that as a mother of a young daughter, abortion rights have not been accomplished.  

Schiff said he strongly supports a national right to abortion laws, adding that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was dangerous for the health and safety of millions.  

Lee, who had an illegal abortion before Roe v. Wade, expressed that reproductive freedom for all is important, saying that she wants to end the filibuster in the Senate to help pass national abortion protections. Lee then shared her experience of getting an abortion during high school, saying, "I got pregnant and my mother and I made that decision that that's what I would do. That was the type of health care I decided I would achieve in terms of an abortion. So I flew to Texas, where her friend took me across the border, remind you this is before Roe, took me across border to a back alley dark clinic. I was terrified. I was terrified because I knew it was illegal in Mexico. It was illegal in Texas and California."  

What's next?

California voters will determine the top two candidates in the state's primary on March 5. The top two, regardless of party, will advance to the general election, which voters will decide on Nov. 5.

Mail ballots for the March 5 primary go out in early February,