The race to replace the late Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein is in full swing in California. Although the state enshrined abortion rights into its constitution, the prospect of a national abortion ban has the candidates vying for a Senate seat putting a spotlight on reproductive rights.
Or, at least the Democrats are.
Steve Garvey, a retired star first baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers, is trying to squeeze into the runoff between the top two candidates in California’s open primary as a Republican. But Garvey, a political novice, is doing his best to avoid taking a stand on abortion.
Asked during a Jan. 22 debate whether, as a senator, he’d vote to protect abortion rights despite his personal opposition, Garvey said only that he’d “always support the voice of the people of California.” Garvey has also declined to say whether he’d vote for Donald Trump to be president in November.
“He’s not answering the question,” said Nicole Brener-Schmitz, a D.C.-based Democratic consultant and former political director for Reproductive Freedom for All.
Since the Supreme Court knocked down Roe v. Wade, that’s been the playbook for Republicans running statewide in bright-blue places such as California. Almost 70 percent of California voters supported protecting abortion rights in the state constitution, and the state has fashioned itself as an abortion safe haven, even offering to train OB-GYNs from out of state.
“Garvey is going to duck, dodge and avoid the debate on this topic as much as he possibly can,” said Mike Madrid, a GOP strategist and former political director for the California Republican Party, who co-founded the anti-Trump group the Lincoln Project.
“The bad image you get from avoiding it is better than actually answering the question.”
Garvey’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Garvey did say later in the debate that he would “not vote for a federal ban on abortion. Let’s make that clear right now.”The debate was hosted by Politico, FOX 11 Los Angeles and the University of Southern California Center for the Political Future.
Democratic Rep. Katie Porter, one of Garvey’s opponents, wasn’t buying it.
“Mr. Garvey’s party, the Republican Party, has said that if they win this election and control Congress and the House, they will pass a nationwide abortion ban that will take effect here in California,” Porter said during the debate. “So Mr. Garvey needs to be clear about where he stands on this.”
Brener-Schmitz said Democrats intend to keep needling him on this issue moving forward.
Garvey has a chance of making the runoff thanks to Democrats splitting their votes. A new poll shows Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff leading the race with support from 25 percent of likely voters. Garvey is tied for second with Porter at 15 percent. Rep. Barbara Lee, another Democrat, trails with 7 percent.
If Porter overtakes Garvey and makes the runoff, reproductive rights won’t be at the center of the race in the same way. The Democrats instead are trying to one-up each another on support for abortion rights.
Porter’s team, for example, said it’s prioritizing legislation to protect patients who travel across state lines to obtain abortions. Schiff’s campaign said he wants to ensure private health insurance providers cover abortion care. And Lee has made the issue personal, highlighting an abortion she had as a teenager.
While Porter has polled slightly stronger on reproductive rights, Schiff is seen as more likely to do the best job addressing issues such as homelessness and immigration.
Down the ballot, California Democrats are hoping abortion can help them flip four toss-up House seats held by Republicans. Vice President Harris visited her home state on Jan. 29 and cautioned Democratic voters against complacency, warning that a federal abortion ban is possible if Republicans take full control of the government.
“Don’t get too comfortable,” Harris said. “Let’s understand: None of us can afford to sit back and think, ‘Thank God we’re in California.’”
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