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Adam Schiff leads US Senate race in California – with a former Dodger at his heels

<span>Representative Katie Porter and ex-Dodger Steve Garvey participate in a debate alongside Barbara Lee and Adam Schiff in Los Angeles on 22 January.</span><span>Photograph: Damian Dovarganes/AP</span>
Representative Katie Porter and ex-Dodger Steve Garvey participate in a debate alongside Barbara Lee and Adam Schiff in Los Angeles on 22 January.Photograph: Damian Dovarganes/AP

Congressman Adam Schiff is leading in the polls for California’s US Senate seat. But a Republican challenger is rising as well – thanks in part due to a boost from his Democratic competitor.

The field of candidates for the seat held by Dianne Feinstein until her death last year is crowded with high-profile Democrats, including Schiff and congresswomen Katie Porter and Barbara Lee. Steve Garvey, a former LA Dodgers baseball player turned businessman, announced his campaign last fall and quickly emerged as the main Republican candidate.

With less than two weeks to go before California’s nonpartisan “jungle” primary, a statewide survey conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California found Schiff squarely in the lead with the support of 24% of voters. Porter clocked in at 19%, Garvey at 18% and Lee at 10%. A previous poll put Garvey slightly ahead of Porter.

With the two top candidates set to advance, the polls suggest it’s possible that Schiff could end up facing a Republican in November.

It’s a matchup the congressman from Los Angeles has done more than hope for. Schiff’s well-funded campaign has helped elevate Garvey, political analysts say, bringing him greater name recognition with ads describing the Republican as a “leading candidate”.

The Republican’s campaign is a long shot in deep-blue California, which has been represented by Democrats in the Senate since 1992. Registered Democrats outnumber Republican voters in the state by a staggering 2-to-1 margin.

Garvey has never before held public office, but has name recognition in the state due to his two-decade career in baseball playing for the Dodgers and the San Diego Padres. “People know me. I played in front of millions of people,” he said at a campaign stop after announcing his run.

By the end of last year, Garvey had raised more than $600,000 for his campaign. But his Democratic counterparts have largely fared much better, with Schiff amassing $35m and Porter with $13m. Lee has raised more than $1m.

Garvey has pointed to his status as an outsider, and on his campaign website pledged to solve homelessness, secure the border and address crime, but has not offered more detailed policy positions. Though he voted for Donald Trump in the last two elections, Garvey told Politico he would consider supporting a Democrat. Still, he said he is focused on California.

“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.”

Mike Madrid, a longtime California Republican political consultant, told the New York Times that Garvey is “not ready for prime time”.

“This is just an attempt to get someone with name recognition to carry the Republican banner down the field under heavy machine gun fire, and everyone knows it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Garvey’s campaign has been beset with controversy in recent weeks. A report from the Los Angeles Times revealed that three of Garvey’s seven children are estranged from him, including a daughter who said he cut off contact with her without explanation.

“While Schiff’s help may get Garvey into the runoff, it’s setting him up for a fall in November, when Republicans won’t have the numbers,” Jim Newton, a UCLA lecturer and author, wrote in a recent CalMatters column. “Schiff is raising him up, using the former ballplayer to fend off Porter and happily dispatch him down the road.”