It’s gametime for Steve Garvey.
The baseball legend, who’s running as a Republican to represent California in the U.S. Senate, is rising in polls — giving the state’s marginalized GOP new hopes of having a candidate on the ballot in November. It’s also handing his Democratic competition a much-welcomed political foil.
Garvey, former first baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, is set to appear on Chris Cuomo’s NewsNation show Friday night. The primetime appearance comes on the heels of a new POLITICO | Morning Consult poll that puts him in a statistical dead heat for second place — alongside two prominent Democratic House members — in a marquee congressional race.
Since launching his campaign in October, Garvey kept a relatively low profile compared to his Democratic competition, namely Reps. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee, who are all vying for the top two spots in California’s March 5 open primary. But his jump in the polls, along with a growing schedule of public appearances, has shown he’s a serious contender for the seat formerly held by Dianne Feinstein.
“People are stressed and they’ve been looking for a voice,” Garvey said in an interview. “And I think that’s one of the reasons things are coming together, and we’re building momentum.”
Garvey’s rise is especially a boon to Schiff, who enjoys a nearly 10-point lead in the crowded field. Schiff is in the front of the pack with the support of 28 percent of likely voters, including those who are undecided but leaning toward backing him. Garvey is next with 19 percent, while Porter has 17 percent and Lee is at 14 percent — a statistical three-way tie.
Schiff appeared eager to turn the contest into a two-person race against a Republican where he’d have a distinct advantage come November in the heavily Democratic state.
“There is a real possibility that Republican Steve Garvey could finish in the top two … and advance to the General Election,” Schiff’s campaign wrote in a fundraising email Thursday. “If that happens, Adam is the best candidate to beat him.”
While Schiff already has the biggest war chest among the contenders, largely thanks to his national reputation as a Donald Trump antagonist, fundraising off of fellow Democrats like Porter and Lee wouldn’t have been as effective.
Now he’s got a political opposite — in another kind of celebrity candidate.
Porter also took note of Garvey’s polling, writing in a fundraising email Thursday that his ascent is “threatening to keep Katie from advancing to the general election.”
Lee took yet another route — viewing her three-way tie for second as a welcome sign of momentum.
“Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas,” she wrote to supporters.
Garvey’s fame, especially among fans of baseball in the 1970s and 80s, comes with strong name recognition. That’s freed his campaign to focus on courting donors and appear on friendly TV and radio shows. He’s expected to release fundraising figures at the end of January, following the quarterly reporting deadline.
The 75-year-old Californian’s appearance on Cuomo’s “no-nonsense” show Friday, along with a Wednesday visit to the border with Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, suggests he’s carved a moderate path. That position will be closely scrutinized as he tries to consolidate Republican support while appealing to California’s wider electorate.
Garvey’s campaign says he’ll be making more appearances starting next year to share his vision on quality of life issues, like public safety and homelessness. The candidate is aiming to tap into voters’ frustrations and blame the blue state’s dominant Democratic Party.
“California was the heartbeat of America. Now it’s only a murmur, because it’s been suppressed by a progressive vacuum,” Garvey said on Fox Business last week.
Californians haven’t elected a Republican to statewide office since 2006, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was in power, and the party has continually struggled to find legitimate candidates to run at the top of the ballot. Garvey, despite never holding political office, is perhaps the best chance the California GOP has had in years to win a statewide race. For Republicans, half-expecting to be shut out of the November ballot, that alone is a victory.
His two decades playing baseball on national television make him a household name in Los Angeles, home to 5.6 million of California’s 22 million registered voters. Even in the absence of a political record, he has more name recognition than Sen. Laphonza Butler, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pick to serve the rest of Feinstein’s term, according to the POLITICO | Morning Consult Poll. Among likely primary voters, 37 percent had never heard of Butler, compared to 22 percent who had never heard of Garvey.
Despite Schiff painting him as a “far-right, MAGA” Republican, Garvey has been noncommittal about his take on former President Donald Trump — which could hurt him with conservatives.
But so far, his lack of support for Trump doesn’t seem to be turning off supporters. Garvey saw backing from 51 percent of people who voted for Trump in 2020 in the latest poll — far outpacing the other Republicans in the race.
“Look, I think people want to win,” said Lanhee Chen, a Republican political consultant and former candidate for California controller. “Whether you’re a Trump supporter or not, winning is an important thing for Republicans who have not won in a while.”