California baseball star and political rookie Steve Garvey clears fences, edges into first in latest poll

California baseball star and political rookie Steve Garvey clears fences, edges into first in latest poll

Republican baseball star and political rookie Steve Garvey has been a competitive contender since joining California’s crowded U.S. Senate race since in October, but a new poll Friday found the former Dodgers and Padres first baseman leading the pack of seasoned Democrats.

Most recent polls have shown Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank in the lead, Garvey and Democratic Rep. Katie Porter of Irvine in a close match for the crucial second-place spot and Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland close enough behind them to keep it interesting.

But Friday’s Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll taken just a week before the March 5 primary Election Day found 27% of likely voters supporting Garvey, 25% Schiff, 19% Porter and 8% Lee, with 12% split among 23 other candidates and 9% undecided.

“These findings represent a dramatic change in the standings when compared to earlier polls in the
Senate race,” IGS said in an analysis of its findings, noting which said Garvey “is now in a statistical tie” with Schiff, the race’s longtime frontrunner.

The two candidates who receive the most votes in the primary will compete against each other for the seat in November.

Garvey said Friday that he was “deeply humbled by the trust and support shown by Californians in the latest poll.”

“This demonstrates that our message of addressing the real issues that Californians care about with compassionate, common-sense solutions is resonating more than the tired political bickering of career politicians. It’s clear that people are ready for new leadership that brings us together to build a brighter future for California.”

The contest is actually two separate elections for the seat held more than 30 years by late Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and now occupied by appointed Sen. Laphonza Butler, also a Democrat, who declined to join the race for the seat. Voters will be asked to decide who will serve a full, six-year term starting next year, and also who will fill the remaining months of Feinstein’s term this year after the November election.

Each race has a separate field of candidates, and in the smaller field running for a partial term, IGS found that “in that race, Garvey is now the leader,” with 29% of likely voters in support compared with 23% backing Schiff and 20% Porter.

IGS attributed the difference in Garvey’s support in the partial-term race to having only one other Republican contender compared with nine others competing for a full term. But the pollsters found that Garvey has successfully corralled conservative voters to his camp. It noted that six weeks ago, the Berkeley IGS Poll found Schiff leading both Senate elections, with Garvey trailing behind Porter in third place.

“The large increase in voter support for Garvey over the past six weeks has occurred mainly by
consolidating the support of Republican and strong conservative voters, 67% of whom now back
Garvey in the full-term U.S. Senate race,” IGS said.

A big part of that, the poll found, was that his supporters believe he will be tougher on the nation’s border crisis and immigration law enforcement than the leading Democrats, all current members of Congress, with 94% of his supporters citing that as very important to them in the Senate race.

But Garvey and Schiff also are benefiting from what IGS noted is shaping up to be a low-turnout election with mostly older voters — which IGS and other polls have found favor them.

“Both he and Schiff are the two most preferred candidates among older voters, whites, and homeowners,” IGS said.

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Porter has accused Schiff of employing a “cynical” campaign strategy of focusing his campaign ads on attacking Garvey, arguing that in doing so, Schiff is giving the former slugger, whose campaign has comparatively little cash, free exposure to conservative and independent voters.

Porter has raised the alarm in fundraising appeals to supporters, including one Wednesday saying that she’s “at real risk of losing” in the primary because fellow Democrat “Schiff is spending millions of dollars to consolidate GOP support behind former LA Dodger, Steve Garvey.”

Schiff’s camp has declined to comment on the jabs other than to note Porter’s campaign has done likewise with ads attacking another Republican in the race, lawyer Eric Early, and that when she ran for Congress in 2018 against several other Democrats, she too focused ads on the leading Republican in the primary.

Garvey’s narrow lead in the latest poll heading into the primary shouldn’t give him much comfort, IGS said. While three top Democrats are splitting the party’s vote in the primary, the party enjoys a 2-1 advantage in voter registration over Republicans in California. Political analysts consider it a “safe” seat for Democrats and give Garvey long odds in November.

IGS found that in a general election run-off between Schiff and Garvey, voters favor Schiff 53% to 38%.

“Garvey would start out as the clear underdog,” IGS said, “as he trails Schiff by fifteen points.”