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Op-Ed: Schiff, Garvey to face off in November showdown

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The election night venues couldn’t have been more different, though each captured a quintessential piece of California.

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, who led the first impeachment inquiry against former President Donald Trump, held his watch party in the heart of Hollywood at the Avalon, a historic nightclub overflowing with Democratic supporters.

Roughly 100 miles east, former Los Angeles Dodger Steve Garvey hosted a few hundred backers at a more nostalgic venue, the Frank Sinatra ballroom at the JW Marriott hotel in the heart of Palm Desert, once a rat-pack retreat from bustling Los Angeles.

After the most competitive California U.S. Senate primary in a generation, both men will face off in the general election. Schiff and Garvey received the first and second most votes, shutting out Democratic Reps. Katie Porter and Barbara Lee. (In California’s jungle primary, the two top vote-getters advance regardless of party.)

Though the race for the top two finishers was close, the end result was definitive. As of late last night, Schiff was leading with 33.3% of the vote, with Garvey nipping close behind at 32.3%, Porter with 13.9%, and Lee in single digits. The percentages will likely shift as state officials continue to count all the votes over the next couple of days, a slower process in California. The general election will determine who will replace the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who held the Senate seat for more than three decades.

The state’s more than 5 million Republicans handed Donald Trump a resounding victory over former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, with 78.8% of Republicans choosing Trump compared to Haley’s 19.8%. The lopsided win means all of California’s 169 delegates will go to Trump after the state Republican party last year switched its primary to winner-take-all if a candidate receives more than 50% of the vote.

Schiff has an obvious advantage in a matchup against Garvey in deep blue California. A Republican hasn’t won statewide since 2006, when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Austrian-born bodybuilder and blockbuster Hollywood actor, won reelection against Phil Angelides, the state treasurer, with 56% of the vote.

The 11-term Democrat from Burbank is in the odd position of having a supportive political action committee spend $11.2 million on ads boosting Garvey’s profile and conservative bona fides, including the baseball great’s two votes for Donald Trump for president. It was a successful strategy designed to help box Porter out of the general election.

Following a performance by R&B singer Aloe Blacc, Schiff addressed the election night crowd just before 10 p.m., playing up his partisan battles with Trump as one of his biggest strengths in the heavily Democratic state.

“At the urging and badgering of Donald Trump, the Republicans censured me for holding him accountable, and then Trump would attack me rally after rally after rally,” he said.

But Schiff was also forced to confront two dozen protesters who interrupted his remarks several times, shouting, “Cease-fire now” and “Let Gaza live” as he struggled to thank his family and extol Feinstein’s and former Sen. Barbara Boxer’s legacies before giving up and walking off stage.

“Trump is not thrilled,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, another California Democrat who served as an impeachment manager during Trump’s second impeachment trial, remarked while introducing Schiff.

But Schiff’s attempts to tie Garvey to Trump as a main strategy discounts the former Dodger’s long relationship with the state’s voters. Many Californians still remember how Garvey helped the Dodgers win the 1981 World Series and went on to play four years for the San Diego Padres, leading the team to their first National League pennant in 1984. Garvey is counting on those long memories and a motivated GOP base to propel his underdog campaign in a one-on-one matchup.

“Let’s celebrate,” Garvey told his supporters Tuesday night. “Welcome to the California comeback!”

Garvey’s supporters argue that his top-two finish after a decidedly low-key campaign with few events demonstrates a shift away from California’s reputation as a petri dish for liberal causes and far-left movements, such as defunding the police and eliminating bail. The transition began in San Francisco with the recall of District Attorney Chesa Boudin in 2022. As of Wednesday morning, San Francisco voters appeared poised to approve ballot Propositions E and F, both public safety measures authored by Mayor London Breed. The efforts would expand the powers of the police and require drug treatment for some welfare recipients.

At Garvey’s election night party, a few hundred supporters mingled calmly for several hours before the candidate appeared on stage, then shifted to cheering and waving signs showing a red-white-and-blue likeness of Garvey swinging a bat in his Dodgers uniform.

“What you are feeling tonight is what it’s like to hit a walk-off home run. Kind of like San Diego in 1984,” Garvey said, beaming.

Garvey hit a dramatic walk-off home run to win Game Four of the Padres’ championship series. San Diego then won Game Five, and Garvey earned the title of series MVP.

The baseball great ended his remarks with a line drive aimed squarely at Schiff: “My opponent has been advertising that he wants me [to run against].”

“Be careful what you wish for … He’s like that pitcher that throws me a 70-mile fast ball,” he said with a grin.

During her campaign, Porter cast herself as an outsider and played up her role as a white-board wielding single mother of three willing to take on big business and eschewing corporate PAC money.

When it became clear she would be shut out of the general on Election Night, Porter took some swipes at Schiff from the left, pointedly assailing him for “spending more to boost the Republican than promoting his own campaign.”

“My opponents threw everything … millions of dollars, every trick in the playbook to knock us off our feet, but I’m still standing in high heels,” she told a crowd gathered at a trendy cocktail bar in Long Beach. In reality, the campaign cost Porter her House seat and possibly her ambitious political aspirations.

Garvey touted his victory as a sign that Californians are tired of the state serving as fodder for jokes about homelessness and crime and are worried about “the wide-open border” and inflation. He also argued that the state is “no longer the heartbeat of America” and hyper-partisan career politicians like Schiff are to blame.

“When I stepped on the field for the Dodgers and the Padres, I didn’t play for Democrats or Republicans or independents,” he said. “I played for all the fans. And tonight, I’m running for all the people.”

Still, Garvey predicted a hard slog ahead.

“Keep in mind, this is the first game of a doubleheader,” he said. “So, keep the evening of Nov. 5 open, so we’ll celebrate again.”

Before the Garvey event began, Vicki Haeberle, a board member of a local group of conservative women, said she believes Garvey has a real chance of beating Schiff because California had reached a tipping point.

“People are sick of what’s going on in California – it’s just shameful,” she said, ticking off several concerns, including crime, open borders, and the state’s sanctuary status for illegal immigrants. “The politicians aren’t working for us.”

As Garvey addressed the crowd, Jeff Gonzalez cheered him on. Gonzalez is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and a pastor who is running as a Republican for a California Assembly District that includes parts of Palm Desert. The combat veteran who served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan said he and Garvey are working to build consensus-based coalitions across party lines and support mainstream policies like fighting crime and fentanyl smuggling and deporting illegal immigrants that commit crimes in the U.S.

“I’m seeing Democrats, independents, and Republicans coming together behind Garvey and my campaigns, which is a little bit of a twilight zone that we’re not used to,” he told RealClearPolitics. “But the reason they’re coming together is because they’re starting to say, we want to be community again. We’re done with all this fighting. Can we just get back to the core issues?”

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.