Ex-Dodger Steve Garvey’s remarkable rise to the top of poll in California U.S. Senate race

Steve Garvey
(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

The latest UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll co-sponsored by The Times shows Republican Steve Garvey with a slight lead with days to go in the primary election for U.S. Senator.

The poll shows a remarkable surge in support for the former Dodger in a race in which three well-known Democrats — Reps. Adam B. Schiff, Katie Porter and Barbara Lee — are battling.

California’s primary election takes place on March 5. Read up on the races in L.A. city, L.A. County and other areas.

Feb. 1, 2024

It’s the latest indication that Garvey could win one of two slots in the general election, which still heavily favors the Democratic candidate.


How did Garvey get here? Here is an explainer from the pages of The Times:

The primary election: Good for Garvey

Garvey is favored by 27% of likely voters, Schiff 25% and Porter 19%. Lee (D-Oakland) garners 8%, while 12% of likely voters pick a different candidate and 9% are undecided.

In effect, Garvey and Schiff are tied because the difference is within the poll margin of error,

The general election: Good for Schiff

Schiff (D-Burbank) would be an overwhelming favorite to beat Garvey in heavily Democratic California. The poll finds Schiff starting with a significant lead in a two-way matchup, 53% to 38%, with 9% undecided. By contrast, a general election between Schiff and Porter (D-Irvine) would start out tied, with 4 in 10 voters undecided, the poll found.

The Garvey surge

In a deep blue state like California, it might seem like a surprise that a Republican can take the lead in a primary election. But this is an unusual one. The Democratic primary is very competitive, with Porter and Schiff major figures in the party and Lee a popular figure with the left. So they are dividing Democratic votes in the deeply blue state.

The only 2024 statewide electoral contest is for Senate and includes Reps. Katie Porter, Barbara Lee and Adam B. Schiff along with former Dodger Steve Garvey.

Feb. 1, 2024

In early polls, Garvey did not do all that well. But recent polls have shown a surge as he’s become better known — particularly among Republicans.


Why? Garvey’s campaign has spent just $1.4 million through mid-February, a tiny fraction of the money Schiff and Porter raised.

But Garvey has gotten some help... from Schiff.

Head shots of two men and a woman
Rep. Adam B. Schiff, left, former Dodgers star Steve Garvey and Rep. Katie Porter
(Los Angeles Times)

The ads

Schiff has spent upward of $25 million on television advertising, most of which has framed the contest as a two-candidate race between him and Garvey. An outside group of Schiff allies has spent roughly an additional $10 million on a similar effort.

“Two leading candidates for Senate. Two very different visions for California,” a narrator intones, noting later that Garvey “is too conservative for California” and voted for Donald Trump twice.

A poll co-sponsored by the L.A. Times shows the Democratic congressman and the former Dodger strongly positioned to be the two candidates in the general election.

March 1, 2024

Times political reporter Benjamin Oreskes explained the strategy this way: “While the message will turn off Democratic voters in the state, it may increase the former baseball player’s appeal to Republican voters — as it is designed to do, according to two political strategists.”

Rep. Adam B. Schiff.
(Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

Porter decried the Schiff tactics. ““We need honest leadership, not political games,” she said,

But political experts were not surprised.

As Times columnist Mark Z. Barabak put it: “The calculus is plain. Schiff is hoping to clinch the Senate seat in the March 5 primary by lifting his weakest possible opponent, Garvey, into a November runoff. Brazen? Sure. Cynical or anti-democratic, as some critics claim? Not a bit. ... This is politics, after all. Not patty-cake.”

Voter turnout

Another factor that could help Garvey on Tuesday: Expected low voter turnout. Political consultants following the returns of mailed ballots expect that Tuesday’s primary will be a low-turnout affair, with an electorate that is significantly older, whiter and more Republican than the state’s voter population as a whole.

Reading list

The Times voter guide

Your guide to the California U.S. Senate election: The race to succeed Sen. Dianne Feinstein

Your guide to the California Senate candidates’ views of housing and homelessness


A climate voters’ guide to the California Senate election

The Times editorial board endorsements (Opinion)

In-depth: Senate candidates

Long before he took on Trump, Adam Schiff’s pursuit of tough justice defined his career

From working with Black Panthers to calling for cease-fire, Barbara Lee stands by her beliefs

How Katie Porter harnesses her blunt style and single-mom experience in her Senate campaign

Steve Garvey touts ‘family values’ in his Senate bid. Some of his kids tell another story


Steve Garvey has barely campaigned for Senate in California. He’s surging anyway