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What to know about Steve Garvey, who's eyeing one of California's U.S. Senate seats

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Steve Garvey, a former first baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, will be on the ballot here in California this fall. Marisa Lagos from member station KQED in San Francisco is here to tell us a little bit more about Garvey, a Republican in a blue state who is hoping to reach the U.S. Senate. Hey, Marisa.

MARISA LAGOS, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so let's start way back in the late 1980s, when I was in junior high school here and when Garvey was just retiring from baseball. Like, how good was he?

LAGOS: Yeah. I mean, he started with the Dodgers in 1969 and was named National League MVP in '74. He won his only World Series in 1981 with the Dodgers and then signed with the Padres and played there until retirement. But he was incredibly popular, to answer your question, in Southern California. He's still remembered very fondly by baseball fans. We've seen him signing balls at the campaign events he's been at. In his heyday, he was actually known as Mr. Clean for his squeaky-clean image, although I will say that image was challenged after his retirement from baseball.

CHANG: Wait, what do you mean? What happened?

LAGOS: Well, after he retired, he struggled with debt. He was sued multiple times. And perhaps most sort of high-profile - he became a bit of a punchline after he got two women pregnant the same year and then married a different woman, his current wife.

CHANG: Ooh.

LAGOS: In all, Garvey has seven kids - yeah - and he's estranged from some of them.

CHANG: OK, so it's complicated.

LAGOS: Right.

CHANG: Did any of that personal history come up in his campaign?

LAGOS: No. I mean, his opponents really focused more on his two votes for former President Trump. Take LA Congressman Adam Schiff, the Democrat he's going to face in the fall. Schiff's campaign spent more than $10 million on ads to boost Garvey's profile. These were ads that looked like attack ads. Take a listen here.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED NARRATOR: Steve Garvey, the leading Republican, is too conservative for California. He voted for Trump twice and supported Republicans...

LAGOS: So Schiff paid to run a lot of these ads on conservative channels like Fox News.

CHANG: Well, what was Schiff's strategy there?

LAGOS: Well, he wanted to introduce Garvey to conservatives and make sure that he clinched that No. 2 spot so Schiff can face off against a candidate he views as weaker. I mean, it is incredible unlikely that Garvey could win in the fall, given the huge gap between Democratic and Republican voters in California. Democrats outnumber Republicans like 2-1...

CHANG: Yeah.

LAGOS: ...And so Schiff's bet paid off.

CHANG: It paid off. Well, given all of that, how do you expect Garvey to campaign, then, in the general election?

LAGOS: I'm really curious about this. You know, he's really struggled to articulate policy positions. He tends to speak in broad platitudes. One example - he says he personally opposes abortion but will follow the will of voters here, who overwhelmingly do support abortion access. And then when he was asked at a debate if that logic would extend to other issues like gun control, here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVE GARVEY: I have nothing that's truly etched in stone except what is truly a right. As I think President Lincoln said one time, I will stand with those that are right. I will walk away from those that I don't agree with.

CHANG: OK.

LAGOS: So pretty vague, right?

(LAUGHTER)

LAGOS: I mean, in general, this is a candidate who bristles when he is pushed on whether he'll support Trump again. And I get it. I mean, Republicans are overwhelmingly in the president's corner, but he's going to have to appeal to independents here. One thing's for sure, Ailsa - we're going to be hearing a lot more baseball references.

CHANG: (Laughter).

LAGOS: Listen to this one from a debate. He was being badgered by his Democratic opponents if he will support Trump this year. It's a question he still hasn't answered.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GARVEY: You're banging on that trash can just like the Astros did a few years ago.

CHANG: See, I don't get any of the baseball references because I'm not a sports fan. It's wasted on me (laughter).

LAGOS: You don't have to, though. He is speaking to his base, and that is a reference to the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal a few years ago. I think, Ailsa, here in California, we can expect a lot more of those...

CHANG: Yeah.

LAGOS: ...Baseball references ahead.

CHANG: That is KQED's Marisa Lagos. Thank you so much, Marisa.

LAGOS: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Marisa Lagos