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Steve Garvey is running for Senate in California as a Republican — but don’t ask about Trump

SACRAMENTO, California — California Republicans are so desperate to separate themselves from Donald Trump that their leading candidate for an open Senate seat said he would consider voting for a Democrat for president.

In one of several interviews with POLITICO, Steve Garvey, a former professional baseball player and first-time political candidate, wouldn’t even rule out voting for President Joe Biden as he sought to distance himself from Trump.

“Nobody’s out of bounds because I’m looking at each individual soul separately,” Garvey said when asked who he was considering supporting for president.

He said he would “absolutely” vote for a candidate for the opposing party, depending on who else is on the ballot.

“I’ve voted for Democrats,” Garvey said Wednesday as he made his first statewide tour as a candidate for the seat previously held by the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

His apparent willingness to cross party lines — and neither endorse Trump nor seek the former president’s support — would be heresy for a Republican in much of the country. But it makes sense in California for a general election, where the party now claims only a quarter of the electorate and where a GOP candidate hasn’t been elected to a statewide office since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor in 2006.

The strategy also makes sense because of the state’s primary system, in which the top two candidates, regardless of party, advance to the runoff in November. Garvey, who is running against three veteran Democratic members of Congress, needs every Republican vote he can get, along with independents and moderates.

His unwillingness to embrace Trump, however, risks alienating passionate supporters of the former president who are expected to turn out for the primary in March.

“Republican math is basically impossible in California, so if you’re going to break through you have to create a new formula,” GOP strategist Rob Stutzman said.

As Stutzman sees it, Garvey pretty much needs every Republican voter, some moderate Democrats and to “dominate” independents to stand a chance.

Garvey said he was not “consciously distancing” himself from Trump, noting that he likes some of the former president’s policies but does not always agree with how he gets his message across.

He said he voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020.

“Do I think that the most dangerous disease next to Covid is Trump syndrome? Yes,” Garvey added, a reference to the media’s coverage of the former president.

At a Thursday meeting with Jewish leaders in the Bay Area city of Pleasanton, Garvey said he was not expecting a Trump endorsement — but wouldn’t say whether he would accept one either.

“I’m more concerned about the single most difficult race in America right now for a conservative moderate like myself,” Garvey said. “I don’t have time to worry about him.”

While Stutzman says Garvey has the chance to ride his Trump agnosticism through the March 5 primary, he’ll have to pony up more policy positions and ad money to stand any chance in the general.

“He needs to keep a distance from Trump. But he can’t vote for Biden. And that could work for the primary,” Stutzman said, adding that Garvey needs to spend around $4-6 million in advertising to cushion his chances in March.

Beyond the spring, the road gets rockier. “If he can make the runoff, I think it’ll be very difficult. There’s a lot about Mr. Garvey that we don’t know yet. He’s not being specific about issues yet, but will have to be in the general,” Stutzman said.

Pressed on the presidential primary, Garvey dodged the question, saying he’s only interested in his own race.

“I’m going to vote for Steve Garvey,” he said. “The former president is not on my ballot. Joe Biden is not on my ballot.”

Garvey will go head-to-head with his Democratic rivals, Reps. Katie Porter, Barbara Lee and Adam Schiff, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday in Los Angeles. The first California Senate debate will air live on FOX 11 in Los Angeles, KTVU FOX 2 in the San Francisco Bay Area and will be livestreamed on POLITICO.

Lara Korte contributed to this report. 

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Author: POLITICO