Republican former baseball star Steve Garvey brings U.S. Senate campaign to Bay Area

Republican former baseball star Steve Garvey brings U.S. Senate campaign to Bay Area

Former baseball star Steve Garvey brought his U.S. Senate campaign to the Bay Area for the first time Thursday where the Republican political newcomer visited a Pleasanton synagogue and heard from rabbis and Jewish residents about their fears since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

The campaign stop was part of a tour around the Golden State in which the former Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres first baseman who lives in Palm Desert is trying to corral enough votes to finish in the top two of California’s crowded March 5 primary and move forward to compete in November’s general election.

Garvey is well aware his is a longshot bid in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1 and no GOP candidate has been elected to the U.S. Senate since 1988, a year after Garvey retired from baseball. But Garvey said he was undaunted as he brought his campaign to the Democratic stronghold of the Bay Area, buoyed by a new poll, the third to put him in second place.

“Not bad for a guy three and a half months into this journey,” Garvey said after the meeting at Chabad of the Tri Valley. “People are starting to realize that I’m running. They’re starting to listen. . . l think it’ll be very interesting.”

Republican Senate candidate and former baseball star Steve Garvey talks to reporters after speaking with members of the Jewish community at Chabad of the Tri Valley in Pleasonton, Calif., on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

Garvey, who joined the race in October, faces a powerhouse Democratic trio of contenders in Reps. Adam Schiff of Burbank, Katie Porter of Irvine and Barbara Lee of Oakland.

An Emerson College Polling/Inside California Politics survey Thursday found Schiff leads the pack with 25% support, with Garvey running second (18%), followed by Porter (13%) and Lee (8%). A Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll last Friday showed Schiff leading with 21% support followed by Porter at 17%, Garvey at 13% and Lee at 9%.

The Oct. 7 attack on Israeli civilians by Hamas that triggered an ongoing Israeli war against Hamas in neighboring Gaza has divided the race’s Democrats. Schiff, along with the Biden administration, has supported Israel’s right to defend itself. Garvey also has supported Israel in the conflict.

Lee has called for a cease-fire, and Porter in December said the U.S. should push for conditions that would make a cease-fire possible such as Hamas releasing all hostages and relinquishing control of Gaza.

On Thursday, Garvey heard from Jews with ties to Israel who in some cases have lost family members and who are frustrated with support among many in the U.S. for the Gaza Palestinians and criticism of Israel.

“What took place on Oct. 7 was sub-human,” said Chabad of the Tri Valley Rabbi Josh Zebberman. “To say it was animalistic is an insult to animals. I believe people are confused. This is an opportunity to share the truth about what’s going on.”

Garvey reaffirmed his support for Israel Thursday, saying “terrorists attacked Israel while it slept, it was inhumane.” He said Israel has “been one of our great allies and I believe that America should always stand next to its allies and that’s why I support our policy and I support Israel.”

But he also said he would like to hear the concerns of Palestinians and Muslims critical of Israel.

“I’m always open for a discussion that may enlighten me,” Garvey said. “And I think that’s how you make good, sound decisions, is to listen to both sides.”

Garvey’s baseball stardom took a back seat in the discussion. One of the panelists, David Yaffe of Livermore, pointed out that he “grew up a Giants fan” and noted that while Garvey’s career batting average was .294, it was .296 against Yaffe’s favorite team by the Bay.

But Yaffe said that his sister was in Israel when Hamas attacked and that it’s been “very painful for my family.”

Left to right: Former baseball player Steve Garvey, Rep., Rep. Barbara Lee of California’s 12th House District, Katie Porter of California’s 47th House District and Rep. Adam Schiff of California’s 30th House District are running for Senate in the 2024 election. (Photos Courtesy U.S. Congress and Steve Garvey for U.S. Senate) 

Garvey afterward told reporters that his message to Bay Area voters is to give him a chance, “listen to a voice like mine” and consider that having bipartisan representation for the state in the Senate might serve them well.

“You look back at the Reagan days, the Wilsons, Deukmejians and Schwarzeneggers . . . we need to get back to that.”

Thursday’s visit came a day after Garvey campaigned in Sacramento, walking the streets and speaking with homeless people before heading off to a fundraiser. He had another fundraiser to attend Thursday and then planned to spend the weekend preparing for the race’s first debate at the University of California on Monday.

He touched on homelessness and other issues with reporters after the discussion about Israel. On homelessness, he said he feels a lot of the money spent on the problem is being “wasted,” noting he spoke with a homeless man who wasn’t receiving welfare, regular meals or blankets. He said the government should examine programs that are demonstrating success and expand them.

“Certain places have programs, let’s go find out what they’re doing that other places aren’t,” Garvey said.

On immigration and border control, Garvey expressed compassion for migrants seeking freedom in the U.S. but said the border must be closed and laws enforced.

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“There is a process to coming to America, a legal process and there’s hundreds of thousands of people around the world that started the legal process in their country . . .  who are waiting to come to the United States legally who are being passed up by a policy that says come one come all,” Garvey said.

Asked whether he’d accept an endorsement from Republican presidential frontrunner and former President Donald Trump, who polls show is popular among California Republicans but unpopular among voters statewide, Garvey dodged and said the endorsement that matters most is from public safety responders.

“Those are the people that I think are the ones that matter the most to me,” said Garvey, noting his grandfather was a Brooklyn cop.

He said crime is a “forefront” of his campaign.

“If you and I aren’t safe, if we’re not safe as a country, everything else really doesn’t matter,” he said.

Garvey dismissed comparisons to the other candidates in the race, Democratic and Republican alike, and said he hopes to set a tone of “civility” in the campaign.

“I’m not running against my opponents,” Garvey said. “I’m running for the people of California.”