Steve Garvey isn’t swinging at much in California Senate race

For a guy who had 2,599 hits in his two-decade baseball career, Steve Garvey — as a Republican U.S. Senate candidate — is not going to take a lot of swings. 

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Lea Suzuki/The Chronicle

Not at his opponents. Not at detailed policy proposals. And not even at a second term. The 75-year-old Palm Springs resident told me Thursday that he will serve one six-year term if elected. And, no, he’s not concerned that power in the Senate is all about seniority. He’s banking on his personal brand of celebrity to be able reach consensus with others.

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“If I can’t do what I can do personally in six years, then I’ll pass the baton to somebody else,” Garvey said. “This could be the legacy of my life, the ability to represent the people of the state that I love so much.”

So don’t expect many specifics when Garvey and the three leading Democrats, Reps. Barbara Lee, Katie Porter and Adam Schiff square off at 6 p.m. Monday in Los Angeles for a statewide televised debate. 

Instead, as Garvey said during a campaign stop in Pleasanton, his goal is to “show humanity.” 

“I’m at the beginning of the journey,” Garvey said. “I’ll have more answers for you in June and more answers for you in August.”

But people are going to start voting next month for the March 5 primary. 

“Well, you’ll see what happens in March,” Garvey said. 

What the polls are increasingly showing is that Garvey, who has never sought elective office, could have a shot at being one of the top two finalists to advance to the November top-two general election. He is pulling 18% of the vote, according to an Emerson College Polling/Inside California Politics survey out Thursday, trailing only Schiff with 25%. Porter has 13% and Lee 8% in that poll. A Berkeley IGS survey released this month showed Garvey in third place with 13%, trailing Porter with 17% and Schiff with 21%.

If he can consolidate the 24% of registered California Republicans behind him, Garvey has a decent shot of making the cut as Democrats split their votes.

So look for Lee and Porter to come out swinging Monday. Garvey promises he won’t return fire. Nor would he explain why he is a better candidate than fellow Republican Eric Early, a Los Angeles attorney.

Garvey is all about playing the happy warrior, much like his old friend, Ronald Reagan — whom he introduced at a San Diego campaign rally in 1984.

A happy warrior without a 10-point plan. Or even a three-point plan in some cases. What he’s about, as he stressed several times in our chat, is that he’s open and willing to talk and listen to anyone. Even if he doesn’t have a lot to offer in return beyond surface-level ideas. 

“Maybe what I’ll be able to establish right from the beginning (of the debate) is civility. I think the people of California are so inundated with the snarkiness among politicians, that I think that maybe I might be refreshing in that I am who I am,” Garvey said. “It’s important for me to have to be able to look into the camera, and tell Californians what I believe.”

Garvey, like many first-time politicians who run because they’re frustrated with the system, is an expert in explaining in anecdotal terms what he believes is wrong.

But as for specifics about what he’d do differently? Not so much.

Take housing affordability, a top problem for many Californians. What would Sen. Garvey think the federal government’s role should be in helping more people buy a home? .

“Now there’s such a rush to make decisions, a rush to throw money at whatever it may be,” he said. “I think sometimes we’ve got to step back and we have to look at the broader picture of where society is now. And then to be able to determine, is probably a federal, state and local influence on housing.” 

Right now that broader picture is that 16% of Californians could afford to buy the $830,620 median priced home last year, according to the California Association of Realtors.

So back to the federal government’s role. 

“I think it starts with the economy, affordability and free-market capitalism. I always say, reach for the moon and if you fall short, you’ll be a star. But you’re probably going to gain the ability to improve the quality of your life,” he said. 

So, then, no role for the federal government? 

“Not the primary role,” he said. That is best left to “the state and local decision-making process, the ability to open up areas to develop in. It gets back to deregulation and opening up areas caught up in red tape.”

Garvey was more definitive, in a way, on immigration policy. His solution: close the southern border and “take a step back.” As in close it without any incoming immigration. Then figure out how to get back to a manageable level.

As for the 11 million undocumented people who are living in the U.S., Garvey wants to “reprocess” them, sift out criminals, and then put them on the “process” — a word he used instead of “pathway”— to citizenship. He thought former President Donald Trump’s proposal to mass-deport undocumented citizens to be “too costly” and impractical. Again, not a lot of details about what he’d do.

As for Trump, Garvey isn’t going near that minefield for a candidate running a state where Trump is loathed by two-thirds of voters. Asked twice by reporters Thursday about whether he’d accept an endorsement from Trump, Garvey declined to answer.

“I’m more concerned about the single most difficult race in America right now for a conservative moderate like myself,” Garvey said. “I don’t have time to worry about it.”

So what’s a “conservative moderate”? Think former California Gov. Pete Wilson. 

“He and I are very, very, very similar,” Garvey told me. 

That analogy will endear Garvey to some Republicans and give others agita. Wilson campaigned for reelection in 1994 on the back of Proposition 187, an anti-immigrant ballot measure that sought to deny health care and education to undocumented immigrants.  While 60% of Californians approved it, a federal court deemed it unconstitutional. The ensuing backlash from Latino voters killed the Republican Party, as they left the GOP in droves. For years afterward, Wilson’s Prop. 187 commercial — with its ominous signature line, “They keep coming” — was played to jeers at Latino get-out-the-vote rallies.

On climate change, Garvey veers more to the right. He believes it’s real. He objects to the “rush to judgment” to address the problem. Like California’s plan to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars starting in 2035. Or as Garvey mischaracterized it, “when you tell people that in 10 years you all have to drive electric vehicles.”

Reality check: The sale of what regulators called the “cleanest-possible plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles” — meaning cars that still run in part on gas — would still be permitted after 2035. Older gasoline-powered cars would still be allowed on the road after 2035, and people could sell them on the used-car market.

“What are they going to do to you if you still have a gas vehicle then?” Garvey said. “They’re going to tax you to death for it.” 

We made it through nearly our entire chat without Garvey making a hacky baseball analogy, as he has throughout his campaign — and as I did at the start of this column. (“He told me to keep it down” around me, Garvey said, pointing to his media spokesman.)

But he saved one for the end. It goes, inadvertently, to how Democrats shouldn’t sleep on Garvey. 

Click here to read the full article in the SF Chronicle


  1. I refuse to vote for someone who thinks he deserves my vote solely because he was a famous baseball player decades ago.

  2. We have to do something to object to the fact that our only choices are hard-left and socialist. Schiff the front-runner is likely to win the primary, and has said he will join the cacaphony of leftists in Washington working on packing the Supreme Court with leftist judges and eliminating the filibuster. Moderate Democrats in California are getting fed up with the immigration and the crime, so there is a small opportunity in 2024 to actually elect a conservative–ANY conservative is better than the three ducks in a row now in contention.

  3. For a large part of the electorate, this type of vague, feel-good approach may resonate. Those who vote and have no particular allegiance to political philosophy or parties want someone who doesn’t make waves and ensures everything operates smoothly. . .the antithesis of the Donald Trump follies. These folks are the ones who elect candidates, not the political junkies. Given how besotted our society is with sports, that helps Garvey’s prospects.

    Like hm or loathe him, Garvey is the best prospect the Republicans have had since Pete Wilson to elect someone on a statewide basis. Arnold was an anomaly only because Gray Davis was so loathed. Yet Arnold, as with so many other RINOs, betrayed every principle of the Republican party and became impotent in his later years as governor when he slavishly aligned with liberal initiatives.

    Unless and until the Republicans offer and simply articulate an alternative approach to the Dem monopoly, Reps will continue to lose California elections. Admittedly, Garvey really is too old at 75 to be running for anything on a first-time basis, but the Reps have no one else with a snowball’s chance to offer up. We had Hayakawa in the Senate; he fell asleep during hearings. Hopefully Garvey has more energy as an ex-jock if he was miraculously to prevail against Schiff-less in November.

    The great boon would be a trifecta of Lee, Porter and Schiff-less all out of Congress by the end of this year.

  4. Not being an attorney speaks volumes! Vote Steve

  5. This kinda sums up the republican party in California. Lukewarm. Is it too much to ask for someone who has BALLS?? And will fight? No wonder we suck! If this state actually had any party leadership that had their head out of their ass. We may turn this thing around?? Where is the California Turmp? Probably moved to a red state?

  6. Steve Garvey is only an appealing candidate because the Democrats in the race are all loathsome fascists.And since the vast majority of Californians are too brainwashed to understand this, Garvey doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming our next U.S. Senator.

  7. Robin Itzler - Patriot Neighbors says

    We are in Communist California! But a big part of the problem is the lackluster CAGOP.

  8. Garvey – What a disappointment. Glad for this interview so we know what he’s about. Sure wish a real quality conservative would get into the race.

  9. Steve Garvey is another of a long-list of celebrity candidates who are solicited to run SOLELY to enable the CAGOP to continue to raise funds and staff collect a commission; albeit, said funds go out of state.

    So while Steve Garvey COULD use the platform to speak up if he were inclined and knew the issues I suspect he was asked to run so the CAGOP would have some semblance of a roster of candidates in pertinent offices.

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