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Why Gavin Newsom doesn’t even bother campaigning for re-election

“Most people couldn’t even tell you who is running against him,” said Ann O’Leary, the governor’s former chief of staff. “So I don’t know if he should do anything.”

It’s a stark contrast to the hotly contested races from Oregon to New York, where Democratic governors fight for their political lives. Newsom’s chances of winning re-election against a massively underfunded Republican are so assured he barely bothers to mention it. Instead, he has focused on abortion rights, boosting other Democratic candidates and fighting what he sees as the rising tide of Republican extremism on the national stage.

Slipping into a second term might be good for Newsom, but it might be bad for the party. The lack of a competitive race at the top of the ticket could mean low turnout — an unfortunate prospect for Democrats running in critical and hotly contested congressional races in Orange County and the Central Valley.

“I think he has to be careful,” GOP consultant Rob Stutzman said of Newsom. “The last time we had a no-contest re-election for [Gov. Jerry] Brown in 2014, a midterm Democratic presidential election, it was a tough year for Democrats. It was their worst election of the decade in California.

Newsom’s campaign — or lack thereof — is in many ways a product of deep blue California, where Democrats hold a supermajority in the Legislature and outnumber Republicans twice in voter registration. But it also suggests that the governor of California — one of the most high-profile Democrats outside of Washington — sees himself largely as a counterweight to a resurgent Republican party that may be poised to take over the House and the presidency in 2024. It’s also fueling speculation that which the governor is running a secret presidential primary campaign.

When criticized by his opponent, Republican Sen. Brian Dahle, for campaigning outside of California, the governor said his actions were necessary to counter GOP attacks on abortion rights and gun control, which Newsom and others have called attacks on democracy itself. .

“I was out of state for a few hours to confront his party and a leader of his party, Donald Trump, who is a passionate supporter of what they’re doing for democracy,” Newsom said of Republicans. “Then I will stand up proudly and joyfully.”

His first TV commercials of the cycle, launched in mid-October, made no mention of his re-election. During the debate, when asked why Californians should vote for him, he argued in favor of an election measure that would enshrine the right to abortion in the California Constitution, and said his opponent was fighting the efforts to protect abortion and prevent climate change in California.

Newsom and his supporters say his record speaks for itself. Under his administration, the state has aggressively funded programs to help the homeless, advanced carbon emission reduction targets, made substantial investments in renewable energy and strengthened protections against abortion.

Speaking to reporters after the debate, Newsom spoke of a litany of policy areas he wants to focus on over the next four years – housing, education, crime, climate change, wildfires, droughts, extreme weather, polarization politics, democracy, immigration, a woman’s right to choose – but didn’t talk about specifics.

Nathan Click, a spokesman for Newsom’s campaign, said the governor has had the advantage of having been in office for four years and says he has made his plans for California clear. Newsom’s record and his vision for the future were “widely displayed” during the debate, Click said, and the governor said “time and time again that what he does in other states is directly related to the work that California is doing to protect democracy, to fight climate change, to stand up to big oil, to advance abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, and to repel nationwide Republican assaults on our freedoms.

Click said Newsom uses the campaign season to help other Democrats, both in and out of state.

Newsom, like other members of his party, turned his attention to the whole state Abortion Measure, Proposition 1, hoping it will get Democrats to the polls. He also weighed in on other measures – opposing an electric vehicle proposal that he says would unfairly benefit the main backer, ride-sharing company Lyft, and another that would legalize online sports betting.

In some ways, the governor already campaigned for re-election last year when he tried to recall him from office. In the months leading up to the vote, he regularly held campaign events and frequently aired television ads.

There was, at that time, a legitimate fear that he might be ousted. Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden came out and wavered for him. But California voters ultimately gave Newsom a resounding endorsement, rejecting the recall by a nearly 24-point margin.

The win made an already formidable starter even more untouchable.

Even Republicans acknowledge that this year’s race is not a contest. As Stutzman said, “he could fall backwards out of bed in a 20-point win.”

California Republicans haven’t won a statewide office since 2006 – when the then-governor. Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the helm. Since then, voter registrations have steadily declined, Democrats have consolidated more power and conservative donors, who view a race in California as futile, have cut back dramatically.

Reaching California’s 40 million people, spread over 163,000 square miles, requires a large wartime budget. The Republican who ran against Newsom in 2018, multi-millionaire John Cox, largely self-funded his campaign and has yet to come close to winning.

This year, Dahle raised just over $400,000 for Newsom’s $24 million.

“Look, fundraising is tough in California,” the GOP nominee told reporters during the Oct. 23 debate. “The power brokers are behind Gavin Newsom, and most people think that’s far from it.”

So far, Republican criticism of Newsom as an out-of-touch elite hasn’t slowed his rise. His re-election prospects are all but assured, and his explosive hits against red states have earned him national attention and praise from liberal audiences outside of California.

The governor framed these dunks as an attempt to offend an increasingly powerful Republican narrative. He’s a frequent foil for GOP governors like Florida’s Ron DeSantis, who has also been nominated as a 2024 candidate and is attracting national attention for his own political stunts.

Newsom, who scours alt-right news blogs looking for the next GOP talking points, says Democrats need to come out ahead of the Republican narrative — something current party leaders aren’t doing.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my president,” Newsom said in Austin last month. “But my party? Nope.”

He swears he won’t run for the White House in 2024 and has pledged to serve all four years of a second term, but those presidential prospects are likely to loom in the years to come.

Dan Schnur, a California political consultant who advised John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2000 and served as spokesman for former Governor Pete Wilson, noted that Newsom would not be the first governor to use re-election as his first primary campaign. . President George W. Bush ran with a similar tactic in his second run for governor of Texas in 1998.

In his next term, Schnur said, Newsom will need to show major progress on issues such as homelessness, which continues to be a point of frustration for voters and a common criticism of conservatives.

“His biggest challenges are not inside the building. They are in the real world. And if he decides to run for president, he will have to be able to talk about progress on those fronts,” Schnur said.

“Otherwise, he ends up seeing a black and white TV ad of homeless encampments in downtown San Francisco and Los Angeles that says ‘Gavin Newsom’s California’.”


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