3 Democrats and a GOP baseball star walk onto a debate stage …

3 Democrats and a GOP baseball star walk onto a debate stage …

Republican Steve Garvey has commitment issues.

The professional baseball slugger who retired in 1988 and is making a run for the U.S. Senate has not taken positions on most policies. Garvey also won’t say how he’ll vote for president. Instead, he has been counting on his fading sports celebrity to carry him into the fall runoff.

That could all change Monday night.

The first-time candidate has his first real chance to illuminate Californians under Klieg lights when he joins three Democratic members of Congress in the race’s first TV debate. The event is hosted by POLITICO, Fox 11 Los Angeles and the University of Southern California Dornsife Center for the Political Future.

Garvey’s inexperience and wildcard status in the race to succeed the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein are among the debate night’s most intriguing storylines. It’s a blessing — and potentially a curse — for 2024’s most prominent tabula rasa.

Garvey, whose ballot designation is “Professional Baseball Representative,” could help his chances by turning in a serviceable performance. He’s the lone Republican on stage, and taking hits from Democrats and members of the media could endear him to the state’s conservative voters.

He could also get a boost by projecting the image of a positive, common-sense Republican willing to work with the other side in his predominantly blue state. He’s been trying to come off as an avuncular, aging jock, asking homeless people if they like watching baseball, signing balls for fans and saying things like he just wants to make a difference for Californians.

But Garvey risks appearing unprepared — so green that Republicans won’t bother to throw away their vote for a learn-on-the-job newcomer. Garvey’s unwillingness to embrace Donald Trump — or even say he’ll vote for the former president in March or November — also could be a major turnoff for the former president’s MAGA loyalists.

It’s unclear whether the neophyte candidate can walk that tightrope.

“Steve Garvey is gonna find out that if you’re not against Trump you’re with him. And if you’re not with him, you’re against him,” said Mike Madrid, a Republican strategist in California who is vehemently anti-Trump. “You can’t be a Dodgers and a Giants fan. You’ve got to pick a side.”

Garvey isn’t the only candidate on the bubble. Public and private polls in the Senate race show Rep. Adam Schiff leading the field, with Garvey and Rep. Katie Porter in a close race for second and Rep. Barbara Lee running behind. Under California’s election rules, the top-two finishers in March regardless of their party advance to November.

Porter, who has defended her swing seat in Orange County while building her national profile as a corporate crusader, is running TV ads that play off her body-slamming bank and big pharma executives while wielding her handheld whiteboard. She’s running on an aggressive platform to shake up the Senate, swearing off pork-barrel spending on earmarks and holding herself up as the only major Democrat to refuse corporate PACs.

Kevin Liao, a Democratic consultant not working for any of the Senate candidates, nodded to Porter’s predicament.

“She’s at risk of being squeezed out of the top two by Schiff’s massive war-chest and Republicans consolidating behind Garvey, and needs a breakout moment to remind Democratic voters who might just be tuning into the race that she’s the fighter California needs in the U.S. Senate,” Liao said.

Schiff, Porter, Lee and Garvey will go head-to-head 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.

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