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California Republicans Hope Low-Info Voters Might Vote For Steve Garvey in The Senate Race

Could He Pull A Schwarzenegger In The Deep Blue State?

Sean Green, Steve Garvey

When I was growing up— like in the 1950s, which I have almost no recollection of— my father used to bring me to Dodgers games at Ebbets Field— until he realized I had zero interest in baseball beyond collecting the Topps cards that came with chewing gum. Between the late 50s— so let’s say when I was 10— and the 90s when my close friend, Russ, also my boss at Warner Bros and a Dodgers fanatic, would bring me to see games because we had incredible corporate seats, I never thought about baseball. I never even thought about the World Series and there was nothing about baseball that interested me. When Russ started bringing me to games, it was fun to hang out with him but baseball was still as boring I remembered it— except there was this hot Dodger, Shawn Green, who would always shake his ass right in front of me when he was warming up to get up to bat. Alas, that was all there was of a "highlight" of any game for me. I haven't been back to a ball game since Russ passed away.

I don’t remember having heard much about Steve Garvey, who was born a couple of months after me, although in Florida, not in Brooklyn. He was a batboy for the Dodgers when I was being dragged to see them at Ebbets Field. He was drafted by the L.A. Dodgers when I was in college (1968). He signed with the San Diego Padres in 1982 and played with them until he retired in 1987. Since I didn’t know who he was, I didn’t know what a huge star he was— nor that he’s a creepy Republican.

Yesterday, I read that he’s thinking of running for the open California Senate seat. Writing for the L.A. Times, Seema Mehta reported that if he does, it “would immediately upend the 2024 race. He’s 74 and “has never held elected office but has been meeting with GOP donors and leaders around the state as he weighs a bid and is expected to make a decision within the next month or so.” It would probably upend the conventional wisdom that this will be a D vs D general election.

And it will certainly upend the race for one of my neighbors, Eric Early, the Republican in the race, who, in an un-serious survey this week, narrowly out-polled each of the three Democrats in the race— Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff. In 2020 Schiff pulverized Early in a congressional race.

  • Schiff- 244,271 (72.7%)

  • Early- 91,928 (27.3%)

Two years later, Early ran for Attorney General and came in 3rd in the jungle primary with 1,142,747 votes (16.5%). He ran against 2 unknown, mediocre candidates, each of whom proved to be less mediocre than him. Despite the poll, he isn’t considered a serious contender. Garvey probably would be, even though just 23.9% of California voters are registered Republicans. That’s because 22.7% are “no party preference” voters. Mehta wrote that “Garvey has reportedly told potential supporters that he is aware of his odds, but feels it is important for the party to have a prominent name at the top of the ballot, according to multiple people who have spoken with him. Because of the state’s ‘jungle primary’ system, Garvey’s entry into the race would be notable. The two candidates who receive the most votes in the March primary will advance to the general election in November 2024, regardless of party.

Normally, having multiple Republicans on the ballot would dilute the party’s chances of making the general-election ballot. But this calculus could be upended because of Garvey’s celebrity and name recognition in two of the state’s largest cities. The first baseman played for the Dodgers from 1969 to 1982 and for the San Diego Padres from 1983 to 1987. In addition to a 1981 World Series victory, Garvey was a 10-time National League All-Star and won four Gold Glove awards.
“Garvey was a sports legend a generation ago, but that’s who makes up the electorate,” said GOP strategist Rob Stutzman, a former advisor to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who describes Garvey as “my childhood hero” but has no involvement in his effort. “And he was huge in two markets. He was a hero in Los Angeles as well as in San Diego for the Padres. He did a ton of advertising over the years. He’s a very well-known former athlete in California, and, assuming a strong and competent candidacy, I think he would absolutely have the opportunity to consolidate the Republican vote in the primary.”
A Garvey candidacy would excite long-suffering California Republicans, even though his odds of success would be low, Stutzman added.
“It’s very tough for any Republican to win statewide, and that’s probably more true in a U.S. Senate race,” Stutzman said. “However, he could possibly be a wild-card candidate that could really change the dynamic in a way we haven’t seen happen in well over a decade. It’s hard to predict victory, but it could certainly be a real boost for the party.”
Early, who lost to Schiff in a 2020 congressional contest, said he was not concerned.
“All I know about Steve Garvey is he was a ballplayer 40 years ago and he has more baggage than the Pacific Surf Liner,” Early said.
Among the controversies in Garvey’s past are fathering two children with different women shortly before he married a third.
Early also pointed to Garvey’s strength in a recent poll by UC Berkley co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times. Among voters likely to take part in the primary, Early has support from 18%, nearly all Republicans. Porter is close behind with 17%, followed by Schiff with 14% and Lee at 9%.
“Our campaign is solely focused on beating the three extremists I’m running against,” he said, adding, “regardless of who gets in the race, we’re going to beat him and get in the top two.”
Garvey’s age could also be an issue— it’s unclear whether voters concerned about an octogenarian senator’s capabilities would want to replace her with a septuagenarian.
Garvey has flirted with running for office for decades. In 1981, he told Playboy magazine that he had been approached about running for the Senate because he could “make this society a better place to live in for all of us” and that he may one day consider running for the White House.
Seven years later, Garvey attended the Republican National Convention in New Orleans as he raised money for future President George H.W. Bush, and spoke about his political ambitions.
“Precedents have been set,” he told the San Diego Union-Tribune, adding that he might ponder a statewide run in 1990 or 1992. “We’ve had an actor in the White House. Why not a first baseman?”
Garvey has spent much of recent years unsuccessfully trying to win a spot in the baseball Hall of Fame, commenting on the sport and promoting the game in Ireland. But he has recently shown a renewed interest in politics, including meeting with California political donors and leaders.
In mid-May, Garvey attended a California GOP donor appreciation event for supporters who had contributed at least $45,500 at the Omni Rancho Las Palmas Resort and Spa in Rancho Mirage.
His potential candidacy was “openly discussed at the event,” said a prominent Republican who attended the event, which was hosted by the state’s GOP legislative leaders as well as the leader of the state party. “He attended the receptions, played golf, interacted with the attendees. He was very engaging.”
On Tuesday, Garvey headlined a fundraiser for Rep. Michelle Steel at the Pacific Club in Newport Beach where he autographed baseballs.
Garvey is also scheduled to headline the Orange County Republican Party’s signature Flag Day salute on June 14.
Jon Fleischman, a longtime conservative Republican activist and Dodgers fan, relished the idea of San Francisco Giants fans supporting the former first baseman.
“You know Republicans in the Bay Area are desperate if they are willing to vote for a former Golden Glove Dodger to serve in the U.S. Senate,” he chuckled.
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