Former Dodgers and Padres star Steve Garvey’s celebrity could upend California’s 2024 U.S. Senate race, if he decides to jump in.
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Longtime Los Angeles Dodgers icon Steve Garvey is considering running for the open U.S. Senate seat in California as a Republican, a move that would immediately upend the 2024 race, according to several GOP state party insiders and operatives who requested anonymity to discuss the former All-Star’s plans.
The 74-year-old 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.
Republican strategist Andy Gharakhani, who is advising Garvey, confirmed that the Palm Desert resident is weighing a campaign.
“He is being contacted by leaders up and down the state. They’re recruiting him to run from both sides, Republican and Democrat, and he’s seriously considering it,” said Gharakhani, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of New Majority, an influential business-minded donor group. “We should have a decision made here in the next few weeks.”
Garvey did not respond to requests for comment.
If Garvey runs, he will focus on quality-of-life issues such as the cost of living and public safety in California, Gharakhani said.
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California has a rare open Senate seat because long-time Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 89, who is facing significant health issues, has announced that she will not seek another term in 2024. Twenty candidates had filed to run for her seat by the end of March, according to the Federal Election Commission.
The three most prominent Democrats, who have each raised at least seven figures, are Reps. Adam B. Schiff of Burbank, Katie Porter of Irvine and Barbara Lee of Oakland. Los Angeles attorney Eric Early, who ran unsuccessfully for California attorney general in 2022 and 2018, is the most prominent Republican who is officially running.
Given Democrats’ overwhelming voter-registration advantage in the state, any Republican running to succeed Feinstein faces an extremely tough challenge. No GOP candidate has won statewide office in California since 2006.
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 his strength in a recent poll by UC Berkeley 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 might 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.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.