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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 9, 2023 | Back issues
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Former baseball player Steve Garvey enters California Senate race

Garvey's position as the only major Republican in a race with at least three prominent Democrats would give him a solid chance at making the November 2024 runoff.

(CN) — Former baseball player Steve Garvey, who played first base for both the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, announced on Tuesday that he would run as a Republican for California's open seat in the U.S. Senate.

In a short video announcing his candidacy, Garvey called California "a state that I believed at one time was the heartbeat of America, but now is just a murmur." Other videos on his website offered tepid criticism of "career politicians" and "misguided laws," and suggested his campaign would be a centrist one aimed at capturing independent and right-leaning Democrats as well as Republicans.

“I never played for Democrats or Republicans or independents,” Garvey says in the video. "I played for all of you."

Since the death of longtime U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a number of prominent Democratic elected officials have jumped into the race to succeed her, including Congress members Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee.

Last week, Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Laphonza Butler — a former labor leader who until recently was the head of EMILY's List, and who has never held public office — as Feinstein's temporary replacement. Should Butler decide to run for a full six-year term, she would be a formidable candidate, in part because she could identify herself on the ballot as the incumbent.

Garvey's long-rumored entry into the race could have a similarly big impact. California hasn't elected a Republican to statewide office since 2006, when Arnold Schwarzenegger won his second term as governor. But Garvey would have a very good chance of finishing second, or even first, in the state's open primary, and thus make his way to the general election ballot.

Republicans make up about a quarter of the state's population, but a little more than a third of voter turnout in most elections. While Lee, Schiff, Porter and possibly Butler will carve up the Democratic vote between themselves, Garvey could have the smaller Republican vote largely to himself (unless another prominent Republican enters the race).

And the March 2024 ballot will feature a Republican presidential primary, but (probably) no Democratic one, giving Republican voters a greater incentive to cast ballots.

"If Garvey is the only big Republican running, he will make the general election," said Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data and expert on California's voting habits.

But once the general election comes around, the math will flip and Garvey will become a long-shot.

That means whichever Democrat makes it to the general election will be the prohibitive favorite to succeed Feinstein. According to Mitchell, "a much more progressive voter base will determine the outcome of the election," since the Democratic candidates won't ever have to worry about winning over Republicans and right-leaning independent voters, who may be written off as Garvey supporters.

Mitchell said it's unclear which candidate benefits from this new calculus. The leading Democrats can each plausibly claim to be the more progressive candidate.

Schiff rose to national prominence by leading the first unsuccessful impeachment of then-President Donald Trump — and has been the subject of numerous Trump attacks ever since, helping him raise tens of millions of dollars. Porter has been the star of numerous viral videos where she can be seen cross-examining pharmaceutical executives and CEOs while holding a small whiteboard. Lee, a black woman, is a longtime progressive, having voted against the 2002 Iraq war; more recently, she voted against sending cluster bombs to Ukraine, on the argument that the weapons are inhumane.

The 74-year-old Garvey says he voted for Trump twice, but has not said who he supports for president this time around. He has criticized President Joe Biden's handling of the border with Mexico, which many Republicans argue has been far too porous in recent years.

Garvey has also said Newsom's pledge to ban the sale of most new gas-powered cars by 2035 is "not realistic," and has criticized Newsom for keeping schools closed during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic. Though he personally opposes abortion, he has said he would not support a nationwide abortion ban.

He played professional baseball for 18 years, making the all-star team in ten of them. He won the World Series with the Dodgers in 1981, and was voted National League most valuable player in 1974. Garvey has not made it into the Hall of Fame. His squeaky clean reputation was given a few blemishes in the 1980s, when a series of lawsuits revealed that he had two children with women he wasn't married to.

The deadline to enter the Senate race is Dec. 8. Much speculation has centered on Butler, who says she has not yet made a decision about running. But one other candidate has been rumored to be mulling a run, one that would surely upend a race that has already been upended at least twice: former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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