Former baseball MVP Steve Garvey joins California US Senate race, gives GOP ballot dash of celebrity

FILE - Former Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Steve Garvey waves to fans prior to a baseball game between the Dodgers and the Colorado Rockies, Sunday, July 25, 2021, in Los Angeles. Garvey joined the race Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, to succeed the late California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, giving Republicans a splash of star quality on the ballot in a heavily Democratic state where the GOP hasnt won a Senate race in 35 years.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File) (Mark J. Terrill, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

LOS ANGELES – Former baseball MVP Steve Garvey joined the race Tuesday to succeed the late California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, giving Republicans a splash of star quality on the ballot in a heavily Democratic state where the GOP hasn’t won a Senate race in 35 years.

Garvey, 74, launched his campaign with a video lush with baseball imagery that recalled his career as a perennial All-Star who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres. It also signaled he would lean toward the political center in a party dominated by former President Donald Trump, the leading GOP presidential candidate who could share the ballot with Garvey next year.

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“I never played for Democrats or Republicans or independents. I played for all of you,” Garvey said in the video, in which he also alluded to problems vexing the state from homelessness to crime. “It’s going to be a common sense campaign.”

In an interview, Garvey said he voted for Trump in the past but had not settled on a pick in the unfolding 2024 presidential contest. He did not answer directly when asked if he considered himself part of the Trump wing of the GOP. Trump lost California in landslides in 2016 and 2020, though he had support from millions of Republican and conservative-leaning voters in the state.

“I’m running the Steve Garvey campaign,” he said. “We need to bring people together again.”

Garvey’s entrance into a race gives Republicans a recognized name to many Californians, even though he may be unknown to millions of younger voters. He played his last major league game in 1987 after an 18-year major league career, and he was National League MVP in 1974.

Still, he will face the challenges of any first-time candidate: raising millions of dollars for TV advertising and building an organization to turn out voters in a field of candidates that already includes Democratic U.S. Reps. Katie Porter, Adam Schiff and Barbara Lee. The race could be further complicated if Sen. Laphonza Butler, whom Gov. Gavin Newsom recently appointed to the seat following Feinstein's death, chooses to run.

He struck a series of familiar Republican positions, including calling for temporarily closing the border with Mexico, at a time when polls indicate widespread frustration with President Joe Biden’s handling of immigration. He was critical of the state’s push to ban the sale of most new gas-powered cars by 2035, saying “that’s not realistic.”

On abortion, an issue Democrats hope will galvanize the party's base after the Supreme Court last year overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, Garvey said he does not support a nationwide abortion ban.

“The people of California have spoken … on abortion, and as their representative, I pledge to always uphold the voice of the people,” he said. When asked if he supported abortion rights, he added, “The people have spoken, and I will pledge to uphold that.”

As a Republican, he inevitably starts as a longshot. Democrats hold every statewide office and dominate the legislative and congressional delegations. Republicans — who are outnumbered about 2-to-1 by Democratic voters in the state — haven't won a statewide race for any office since 2006.

California runs a primary that sends the two candidates with the most votes to the general election, regardless of political party. In California's last two Senate races, GOP candidates performed so poorly that only Democrats appeared on the November ballot. The last Republican to win a Senate race in the state was in 1988.

However, given the large number of candidates who will divide the vote in the March 5 primary, it’s possible Garvey could slip into the November general election. He'd need to consolidate Republican and conservative voters behind his candidacy, and he has competition from attorney Eric Early, who previously has run unsuccessfully for state attorney general and Congress.

Garvey confirmed in June that he was considering entering the Senate race, and his candidacy was widely expected.

Garvey has flirted with the possibility of entering politics before, including after his retirement from baseball, when he teased a possible U.S. Senate run but never became a candidate.

In the interview, he said he was motivated to run this time by the “quality of life stress” that has spread throughout the state, and added his campaign would be anchored to reducing crime, improving education and working to lasso inflation and trim soaring gas prices.

He faulted long-running school closings during the pandemic for falling student test scores.

For young children, the extended school shutdowns “not only obstructed their pathways to learning, but to social interaction,” he said. “We're behind in both of those areas.”

When Garvey confirmed in June he was considering the race, Early issued a statement saying the former baseball star “has more personal baggage than Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner,” an apparent reference to 1980s sex scandals that sullied Garvey’s reputation as “Mr. Clean,” a moniker that referred to his buttoned-down image from his Dodger days. At the time he admitted to having two children with women he wasn't married to.

Asked about that period, Garvey said, “I think our life is a journey. I think there are chapters. Sure, I’ve gone through a difficult time here and there. I’ve learned from it. And I think I’ve been stronger.”