Why Gavin Newsom isn’t even bothering to campaign for re-election

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

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

Slipping into a second term could be good for Newsom, but it could be bad for the party. The absence of a competitive race at the top of the ticket could mean low turnout — an unwelcome prospect for Democrats running in critical, 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 non-competitive elections again [Gov. Jerry] Brown in 2014, in the Democratic presidential midterm elections, it was a rough year for Democrats. This was their worst election in decades 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 Republicans outnumber them two-to-one in voter registration. But it also suggests that California Gov — one of the most prominent Democrats outside of Washington — is widely seen as a counterweight to a resurgent GOP that may be poised to regain control of the House and the presidency in 2024. It has also fueled speculation that the governor is waging a covert presidential primary campaign. .

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

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

His first TV ads of the cycle, which ran in mid-October, made no mention of his re-election. During the debate, when asked why Californians should vote for him, he spoke in favor of a ballot measure that would enshrine the right to abortion in the California constitution, saying his opponent was fighting efforts to protect abortion and prevent climate change in California.

Newsom and supporters say his record speaks for itself. Under his administration, the state has aggressively funded homelessness programs, pushed for carbon reduction goals, invested heavily in renewable energy and strengthened abortion protections.

Speaking to reporters after the debate, Newsom rattled off a litany of policy areas he wants to focus on over the next four years — housing, education, crime, climate change, wildfires, drought, extreme weather, political polarization, democracy, immigration, and women’s rights. selection – but she didn’t talk about specific things.

Nathan Click, a spokesman for the Newsom campaign, said the governor has the advantage of being in office for four years and says he has clearly laid out his plans for California. Newsom’s record and his vision for the future were “extensively exposed” at the debate, Click said, and the governor said “over and over again that what he’s doing in other states is directly related to the work that California is doing to protect democracy. fight climate change, take over large amounts of oil, promote abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, and push back against national Republican attacks on our freedoms.

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

Newsom, like others in his party, has turned his attention nationally abortion measure, Proposition 1, hoping to bring Democrats to the ballot box. He also targeted other measures — opposing an electric car proposal that he said would unfairly benefit a major sponsor, the ride-sharing company Lyft, and another that would legalize online sports betting.

In some ways, the governor already ran his re-election campaign last year, during an attempt to remove him from office. In the months leading up to the vote, he held regular campaigns and often ran TV ads.

At the time, there was a legitimate fear that he might be deposed. Both Vice President Kamala Harris and President Joe Biden came out and tripped for him. But California voters ultimately gave Newsom a resounding approval, rejecting the recall by nearly 24 points.

This victory made the already formidable holder even more untouchable.

Even Republicans acknowledge that this year’s race is not competitive. As Stutzman put it, “he could have fallen out of bed backwards and won by 20 points.”

California Republicans haven’t won statewide office since 2006, when then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the helm. Since then, voter registrations have steadily declined, Democrats have consolidated more power and conservative donors who see the California candidacy as futile have cut back drastically.

Reaching California’s 40 million residents spread over 163,000 square miles requires a considerable warchest. The Republican running against Newsom in 2018, multi-millionaire John Cox, largely self-funded his campaign and still came close to winning.

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

“Look, it’s hard to get money in California,” the GOP candidate told reporters at the Oct. 23 debate. “There are power brokers behind Gavin Newsom and most people think he’s a long shot.”

So far, Republican criticism of Newsom as an out-of-touch elite has not slowed his rise. His re-election prospects are all but certain, and his bombastic attacks against red states are bringing him national attention and praise from liberal audiences outside of California.

The governor called the drubbing an attempt to insult an increasingly powerful Republican narrative. He is a frequent underdog to GOP governors like Florida’s Ron DeSantis, who has also been tabbed as a 2024 candidate and is garnering national attention for his own political stunts.

Newsom, who scours alt-right news blogs looking for more GOP agenda items, he says Democrats need to get in front of the Republican narrative — something current party leaders aren’t doing.

“I couldn’t be more proud of my president,” Newsom said last month in Austin. “But my party? No.”

He vows not to 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 large in the coming years.

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

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

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

“Otherwise, they’ll end up seeing a black-and-white TV ad for a homeless encampment in downtown San Francisco and Los Angeles that says ‘Gavin Newsom’s California.’

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