Garvey Gains Traction in California Senate Primary

Garvey Gains Traction in California Senate Primary

By Joe Guzzardi

The Sacramento Bee thinks that Republican U.S. Senate candidate Steve Garvey has a chance to qualify for the November 2024 ballot. At first blush, the idea that the nation’s bluest state could possibly elect a Republican to the U.S. Senate is too far-fetched to take seriously. Not since 1988 when California voted in Pete Wilson to represent the state for a second term has a Republican held a U.S. Senate seat.

But California’s primary system has quirky guidelines that could favor Garvey over his three Democratic opponents. In 2010, California passed Proposition 14, a ballot initiative that created a top-two primary election system. Gone were the historic Republican and Democratic primaries in which voters from each party chose their winning candidates, who then face off against each other in a general election.

Today, all candidates, regardless of party, run in the same primary, and all voters, also regardless of party, may vote for any of them. The top two vote-getters then move on to the general election. Political insiders rate Garvey’s chances of reaching the final two March 5, 2024, primary slots in what’s currently a four-way race, at about 50-50.

In addition to Republican Garvey, the leading Democratic candidates are the collectively unimpressive U.S. Reps. Adam Schiff, Barbara Lee and Katy Porter. Leeand Porter are little known outside their districts, the Democratic strongholds of Oakland, and south-central Orange County, respectively. Schiff, on the other hand, is well-known, mostly for his highly publicized false promises that he had evidence which would prove that President Donald Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election. Subsequent House Intelligence Committee investigations found that Schiff knowingly lied about his Trump-Russian collusion allegations.

If the three big Democratic contenders – Schiff, Porter and Lee – each win significant blocs of votes while Republicans rally around a single candidate, that could be enough to boost Garvey into the top-two mix. Garvey is already close. In the November 11-14 Emerson Polling Institute/Inside California Politics survey of 1,000 registered voters, Garvey was third, with 10 percent, ahead of Lee, 9 percent. With the poll’s margin of error plus or minus 3 percentage points, the former Los Angeles Dodgers’ and San Diego Padres’ All-Star is competitive with frontrunners Schiff, 16 percent, and Porter, 13 percent. A plurality remains undecided.

Garvey’s biggest advantage is that the popular, high-name recognition baseball star could motivate GOP voters to turn out in big numbers. In California’s most recent U.S. Senate elections, Republicans haven’t had a horse in the race, e.g., in 2016, then-Attorney General Kamala Harris routed U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, and in 2018, Dianne Feinstein beat California State Senate pro-tempore Kevin de León. With liberal Democrats facing each other in the general election, registered Republicans stayed home.

History confirms the pattern that without two top candidates, Democrats don’t turn out as heavily as Republicans. In 2008, when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama competed for the presidential nomination, Democratic turnout in California was 63 percent, 20 percentage points higher than the party’s 20-year average. But in 2012, when Obama ran unopposed, Democratic turnout plunged to 31 percent, then increased again to 54 percent in 2016 when Clinton battled with Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders. Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data, Inc., a California-based analytics firm, said “Democrats have a tougher time turning out their voters when there is no top of the ticket partisan battle in the Democratic primary side. On the Republican side, we don’t see the same drop in turnout.”

If Garvey prevails in his bid, he still will have the formidable task of winning the general. But Garvey would have plenty of fodder if he made the surviving Democrat’s immigration voting record a campaign issue. Schiff, the likeliest to reach the final two, has, during his two decades in the House, unwaveringly voted against enhanced border and interior security, against ending asylum entitlements, against reducing unnecessary employment visas, and against ending chain migration. Schiff has favored an illegal alien amnesty and higher refugee resettlement levels. Much like in Europe, tolerance for unchecked immigration has waned in California.

Schiff’s votes are a tangible. But a huge intangible will also be a factor: the “I’ve-had-enough” variable that would play especially well among older voters who remember California before smash-and-grab thieving, homelessness, unaffordable housing, soaring living costs, overdevelopment, environmental degradation and woke schools.

Californians recall 2003 when disappointment with incumbent Democratic Gov. Gray Davis led to his recall and to Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger’s election. Schwarzenegger then, like Garvey now, was a political neophyte who voters deemed vote-worthy. Only three months remain until Primary Day; the results of Garvey’s quixotic U.S. Senate bid will soon be known.

Joe Guzzardi is a Project for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at

Garvey Gains Traction in California Senate Primary

Garvey Gains Traction in California Senate Primary

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