Steve Garvey has been quiet since the March primary. So what was he doing in Israel?

Former Dodger Steve Garvey, shown in October 2023, <span class="copyright">(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)</span>
Former Dodger Steve Garvey, shown in October 2023, (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Since the March Senate primary when Steve Garvey was able to outfox several prominent Democratic competitors and advance to the November election, the Dodger and Padres legend has been very quiet.

He's focused heavily on fundraising in an effort to match the financial muscle of his opponent Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), sat for several television interviews and even showed up at the Congressional Baseball Game in a full Dodgers uniform.

Then last month he made waves when he began posting photos and videos from a weeklong visit to Israel. On the trip he met with families whose loved ones were either killed or kidnapped in the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas. About 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and about 250 others were taken hostage by militants.

Many are still being held in Gaza — probably in a warren of tunnels under its major population centers.

"You're in a country that's under siege and in a real war," Garvey told The Times. "I wanted to go to be able to talk about it with a deeper sense" of authority.

Back in California, however, Garvey's campaign strategy has been subdued at times and, at the very least, a bit different than those of past Senate candidates.

In the spring, Garvey skipped the state Republican convention and continued to play coy about his support for former President Trump — whom he said he voted for in 2016. Last month Garvey said in a television interview that he did in fact vote for Trump in the March presidential primary over the likes of Nikki Haley, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Garvey won't attend the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, according to a spokesman. Schiff leads Garvey (62% to 37%) among likely voters, according to a May poll from the Public Policy institute of California.

Garvey launched his campaign on Oct. 10, and he said the attack in Israel only deepened his desire to visit the country, where he toured a kibbutz near the border with Gaza that was attacked and the site of a music festival that had been targeted, among other places. The former baseball player had little to say about Israel's military campaign in response to the attack; the international community has roundly criticized the brutality of the Israel Defense Forces' offensive in Gaza.

The war has killed more than 38,000 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza. The ministry's toll does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Garvey said it wasn't his place to tell Israel how to conduct its offensive. He said that if he were a senator, he'd attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to Congress later this month.

Some Democrats have said they would boycott.

From a purely political perspective, strategists said the trip was smart because it brought Garvey some sorely needed attention. But, they said, Garvey's efforts to peg Schiff, who is Jewish, as a tepid supporter of Israel probably would fall on deaf ears. After one primary opponent, Rep. Barbara Lee, endorsed Schiff, Garvey criticized the two Democrats because the Oakland representative was an early proponent of a permanent cease-fire — even though Lee and Schiff disagreed on this issue.

Unlike Schiff, Garvey's been muddled on whether he supports a two-state solution, under which Israel would recognize a Palestinian state and vice versa. Schiff has long believed in a two-state solution.

"The question always comes up, could there be a two-state solution today? No, because one of those states wants to annihilate the other," Garvey said.

A woman has her hand on the shoulder of a man in a dark jacket, with one hand raised in celebration
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) and his wife celebrate at a post-primary party in Los Angeles in March 2024. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Republican strategist Kevin Spillane noted how the American Israel Public Affairs Committee poured $5 million into an outside group supporting Schiff. The war has roiled many communities, but Spillane said voters appear more animated by issues such as the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, housing and the economy.

"Israel is a strength of both candidates," Spillane said.

"Maybe Garvey has some research he can criticize Schiff on, but this isn't major contrasting and something like immigration would be more logical and, frankly, more resonant with voters in California," Spillane said.

During his visit, Garvey received a briefing from Israel Defense Forces officials, the family of hostage Guy Gilboa-Dalal and Burbank resident Samara Weiner. Garvey's campaign posted a video of Weiner saying that she previously voted for Schiff but would now back the Republican. Weiner, who is a lawyer, also works with the Israel Softball Assn. trying to strengthen their team in advance of the 2028 Olympics.

"He was pandering too much to the far left of the Democratic Party," Weiner told Fox News. "It was creating antisemitism, which was leading directly to violence against Jews, my community. I didn't see Adam Schiff voting for the weapons Israel needs to protect himself."

Schiff has actually voted on multiple occasions to increase defense funding to Israel, including this year when he supported legislation that allocated more than $26 billion for Israel along with aid to Gaza. He also sponsored legislation that would give Israel an additional $2 billion for its Iron Dome defense system.

A screen showing two men, with the words U.S. Senate Primary California, and the names Schiff and Garvey
A TV screen showing images of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), left, and his opponent in the U.S. Senate race, GOP candidate Steve Garvey. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Schiff has been criticized from the left for not calling for a cease-fire and for saying that Israel has a right to protect itself. He has broadly said that he supports President Biden's approach to addressing the war, which is pushing Israel to reduce civilian casualties, calling for a release of the hostages and finding a diplomatic solution to end the war.

The longtime Burbank legislator's campaign raised far more money than Garvey's and though they finished neck and neck in the primary, the huge Democratic voter registration advantage in California gives Schiff an almost insurmountable edge. It's doubtful that attacking Schiff's position on Israel would be an effective way for Garvey to close that gap.

"After the Hamas terrorist attack on October 7, I have supported providing Israel with all the material necessary to defend itself, end Hamas rule of Gaza, and obtain the release of all the hostages, even as I have sought to protect innocent civilians and to provide humanitarian assistance," Schiff said in a prepared statement. "Unlike Mr. Garvey, I support a regional agreement in which Saudi Arabia recognizes Israel, and Israel recognizes a path to a Palestinian state. Such a two-state solution holds the promise of a lasting peace.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.