California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) rising media profile in recent weeks has renewed speculation over his presidential aspirations.
Newsom seized on a fight with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) over the decision to fly several dozen migrants to the Golden State, threatening possible charges against Florida officials and labeling DeSantis a “small, pathetic man.” He also raised eyebrows earlier this week with a sit-down interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity.
His aggressive media play comes amid heightened anxiety within the Democratic Party over President Biden’s age and low popularity, raising the question of what exactly Newsom is aiming to achieve.
“I buy that he supports the president, but I also think that he wants to be there in case, God forbid, there needs to be an alternative if something happens to the president or if somebody else mounts a challenge, I think he’ll be right there,” said Democratic strategist Steven Maviglio.
“I mean, [former Gov.] Jerry Brown gave him some advice in the news a few months ago, ‘Hey, if you want to run, run,’” Maviglio said, adding, “He hasn’t taken that advice and feels he can sort of run a shadow candidacy, while also being the carrier of the message that Democrats want to talk about … It doesn’t hurt him at all politically.”
While Democrats concede that Newsom likely has higher ambitions for the White House, some members of the party are pushing back at the notion that he’s running a shadow campaign.
Even still, he’s made appearances on the national media circuit this month, including with Politico, NBC’s “Today” show and Fox News’s “Hannity,” raising renewed interest in his political future.
Some of that national spotlight has been used to go after DeSantis, a 2024 GOP presidential contender and former President Trump’s chief rival, over several dozen migrants who were flown to California. Newsom’s administration alleges that some of the migrants traveled to California under false pretenses, while the DeSantis administration has maintained they went to the Golden State voluntarily.
Newsom has slammed DeSantis over the situation and has suggested that kidnapping charges could be waged. And in recent days, he’s used the national spotlight to go even further.
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The California governor doubled down on his criticism of DeSantis in a recent interview with Politico. And during a one-on-one with Fox News host Sean Hannity that aired on Monday, he said he would agree to participate in a debate with DeSantis moderated by Hannity.
The Florida governor later responded to Newsom’s challenge by saying the California governor should stop “pussyfooting around” and jump in the 2024 race.
Maviglio suggested that Newsom’s attack-dog approach is actually helpful for Biden, saying that the California Democrat can speak in a way that Biden can’t as president.
“Biden’s approach is what we saw on the debt ceiling bill was to try to … consolidate people. Biden can’t lash out at Trump the way Newsom is. He can’t lash out at DeSantis in the style and manner as DeSantis is,” he explained.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a news conference in Sacramento, Calif., on March 16, 2023. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Newsom’s appearance on “Hannity” — his first appearance on Fox News in more than decade — even impressed some of his critics.
“His interview with Hannity might have been the best I’ve ever seen him. Normally, when Newsom engages in national politics, he tends to sound very bitter and very angry and somewhat divisive,” said Dan Schnur, a former Republican strategist who’s currently a professor at the University of California at Berkeley and University of Southern California.
“But he came across very well in the Hannity interview to a point where Hannity actually showed him some significant respect,” he added.
Meanwhile, Democrats say that Newsom’s escalating attacks on DeSantis are also being applauded nationally, including in the Florida Republican’s home state.
“I think they’ve been received by Democrats in Florida the same way they’ve been received by Democrats across the country — extraordinarily welcome and well received,” said Fernand Amandi, a Democratic pollster based in Miami who worked on both of former President Obama’s presidential campaigns.
“I think what’s interesting is in the same way that Ron DeSantis is trying to portray his candidacy as ‘Make America Florida.’ You see Gavin Newsom as the anti-DeSantis, in essence saying ‘Make America California,'” he added.
Newsom’s rising national profile comes as Biden vies for a second term in the White House. Recent polling has shown, however, that a majority of Americans — including members of his own party — don’t want to see a second Biden White House run.
An NBC News poll released in April found 70 percent of Americans believed Biden shouldn’t run for a second term, including more than half of Democrats (51 percent.) A majority of voters, 60 percent in that poll, also don’t want to see Trump again, which included around a third of GOP respondents.
That poll also noted that of the 70 percent of respondents who didn’t want a repeat Biden White House run, nearly half of them pointed to Biden’s age as a “major reason” why they didn’t want to see him running in 2024. Biden, who is 80, would be 86 years old when he leaves office if he’s elected to another term.
But other Democrats are batting away speculation that Newsom has higher aspirations than the governor’s mansion right now.
“President Biden and Vice President Harris are running a strong campaign focusing on the issues that matter most to the American people: jobs, the economy, and protecting American interests abroad. Democrats and the American people are fully behind them,” said Michael Kapp, a Democratic National Committee member from California, in an email.
“There are no ulterior motives behind Newsom’s actions. He is doing his part to protect American and Californian values, lockstep behind President Biden and Vice President,” he added.
Even if there’s no shakeup within the 2024 Democratic primary, members of the party say they see Newsom as an asset to the national conversation on issues like immigration.
“I think it’s refreshing to see him engaging so aggressively. I mean, certainly the governors of Florida and Texas have been very significant voices on the national stage for years. It’s certainly appropriate for the governor of California to be as well,” explained longtime Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg.
Though 2028 is a ways off, many Democrats hope they’ll see him on a presidential debate stage soon.
“If he does run one day, and I hope he does, the rest of the country will get to know him as we do. He’s never shied away from fighting back when our values are under attack and he’s showing others what that could look like on a national stage,” Shawnda Westly, former senior strategist and executive director of the state’s Democratic Party, told The Hill in an email.