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Why Is Gavin Newsom Poking the G.O.P. Bear?

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“Where the hell’s my party?” Newsom said. “Where’s the counteroffensive?”

He’s at all times careful to elucidate that he means no disrespect to the gerontocratic official leaders of the Democratic Party: President Biden (who’s 79), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (82) and Senator Chuck Schumer (71), the bulk leader.

And though Newsom has declared that he has “subzero interest” in running for president — and aides insist that he’s deadly earnest about that — he appears to be not only positioning himself as a degree man for blue states but additionally laying the groundwork for a future White House run.

During an interview with my colleagues Shawn Hubler and Jill Cowan in March, Newsom said he felt a “real sense of obligation” to talk out.

“There’s something really profound happening on the state level, and I just think we’ve been sleepwalking,” he said.

As demoralized Democrats seek for political heroes, Newsom offers the allure of a proven winner. He crushed a recall attempt last yr and emerged stronger. In California’s recent primary election, he finished ahead of his closest opponent by nearly 40 percentage points.

“On election night, Newsom can be the winner of the biggest state and by the biggest margin,” Mike Madrid, a former Republican political consultant based in Sacramento, predicted about November. “There’s no way he can’t be a part of a national conversation.”

Last week’s editorial selections by The Atlantic, the proverbial in-flight magazine of Air Force One, were especially striking: Ron Brownstein, the influential Los Angeles-based pundit and CNN analyst, gushed over Newsom’s leadership in a single breath while Mark Leibovich, a former Recent York Times author, raised doubts about Biden’s re-election probabilities in one other.

In the course of the Trump presidency, as blue-state governors battled with the White House over pandemic restrictions and immigration, Newsom often gave the impression to be competing with Gov. Andrew Cuomo of Recent York for influence. But Cuomo resigned in 2021 amid allegations of sexual misconduct, leaving Newsom because the nation’s strongest Democratic governor.

“He’s filling a vacuum,” said David Atkins, a Democratic National Committee member from California. “Newsom really understands the present political moment and what the trendy Republican Party has turn out to be.”

The surge of interest in Newsom comes as Democrats begin to openly debate whether Biden, given his age (which is high) and his approval rankings (that are low), must bear the party’s standard again in 2024.

Most such conversations begin with two assumptions: that Vice President Kamala Harris is Biden’s natural heir, and that she would face many Democratic challengers should he bow out.

On Saturday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois was the keynote speaker at a dinner for the Democratic Party of Recent Hampshire, prompting speculation that his motives transcend the stated goal of helping fellow governors who support abortion rights.

Newsom’s rise coincides with a series of stinging defeats for prized progressive policies and goals. The Supreme Court appears poised to reverse Roe, while Republican-led states like Florida and Texas are enacting recent restrictions on what teachers in public schools may say about gender and sexual identity. In Congress, Republicans have foiled Democrats’ attempts to pass laws aimed toward protecting voting rights, slowing the pace of climate change and a number of other priorities.

“If the president weren’t to run, it’s hard to assume that Newsom wouldn’t be sorely tempted to enter the race,” said David Axelrod, a longtime Democratic strategist and political adviser to former President Barack Obama.

“Newsom is young and politically muscular,” Axelrod added, “which could also be just what the market can be in search of post-Biden.”

However the “People’s Republic of California” could be a dual-edged blade for Democrats with national aspirations.

With a population of nearly 40 million people, hordes of rich liberal donors and an economy larger than India’s, the state is an appealing platform for a presidential run.

All three of the country’s Californian presidents — Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan — were Republicans, nevertheless. No Democrat from California has ever been elected to the Oval Office.

“They’ve never really been to varsity on learn how to win a Michigan or a Wisconsin,” said Mike Murphy, a Republican political consultant based in Los Angeles. “So their instincts are likely to be improper.”

Aides to Newsom say there’s no hidden agenda here: He just desires to prove to Democrats across the country that taking over Republicans, forcefully and directly, is a winning political move. And in a state as diverse and geographically complex as California, he can reach more Democratic voters by popping off on “Maddow” than by appearing on, say, local television.

Newsom’s political advisers have studied the way in which Scott Walker handled an analogous drive to recall him as governor of Wisconsin in 2012. Walker survived with 53 percent of the vote, setting him up with a national following and donor base on the precise.

But Walker’s ensuing bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination flamed out quickly. Broke and polling badly, he dropped out in September 2015, months before the Iowa caucuses.

For Newsom, gleaning insights from Walker’s recall was simply a matter of political survival, aides say. And today, by defining Republicans as capricious and cruel, he’s merely taking full advantage of his platform.

“He’s expressing general concern about what’s happening and offering up California as a substitute vision,” said Anthony York, a spokesman for the governor. “The stuff that’s happening in other states across the country is dangerous.”

Complicating Newsom’s calculations, Democratic insiders say, is his relationship with Harris, who served as California’s attorney general before her successful run for Senate in 2016.

Taking up Harris would put Newsom at odds with the one Black woman ever to function vice chairman. Whatever private doubts many top Democrats voice about her viability in a hypothetical contest with Trump, she can be a formidable opponent in early presidential primary states like South Carolina, where Black voters powered Biden to victory in 2020. A lot of the highly speculative, early polls presuming a Biden-free Democratic primary in 2024 place Harris atop the heap.

Newsom and Harris have also shared the identical political consulting firm and swim in most of the same elite waters. Megadonors and other power brokers in California are more likely to blanch on the prospect of an open conflict between the state’s two strongest Democrats.

“I can’t imagine a world during which they might run against one another,” said Michael Kapp, a Los Angeles County official and D.N.C. member.

Newsom could be higher off running in a yr that appears more auspicious for Democrats, akin to 2028. At that time, the governor can be 61 years old and amply seasoned after two terms in office, though he would want to amass and smartly package a record that would appeal to primary and general election voters alike, Murphy cautioned.

For now, in taking over Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, his ambitious counterparts in Florida and Texas, Newsom is stoking cross-country rivalries that may benefit all three governors. He has mentioned DeSantis dozens of times over the previous few years, while jabbing Abbott somewhat less often. Most recently, Newsom criticized DeSantis on Twitter for refusing to help with the distribution of federally supplied vaccines for kids.

“He tweets on a regular basis about my boss,” said Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for DeSantis who spars continuously with the California governor online. “Newsom appears to be trying to begin some form of feud.”

If that’s the case, it’s a two-way affair: DeSantis has blamed liberal voters for turning San Francisco right into a “dumpster fire” and said he didn’t want residents from California moving to Florida because “they might proceed to vote the identical way.”

Shawn Hubler contributed reporting.

  • Because the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack resumed its public hearings today, it revealed that Donald Trump was directly involved in a scheme to recommend slates of false pro-Trump electors in states won by Joe Biden. Read how the afternoon unfolded.

  • Vice President Mike Pence is attempting to navigate a difficult political moment as his former boss faces withering scrutiny over Jan. 6, Maggie Haberman and Reid Epstein write.

  • Voters in Alabama and Georgia were making their final selections today in congressional runoff elections, and Virginia primary voters were selecting party nominees for 2 of probably the most closely watched House races within the country. Follow our live updates here and watch the outcomes as they arrive here.

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you tomorrow.

— Blake

Is there anything you’re thinking that we’re missing? Anything you need to see more of? We’d love to listen to from you. Email us at onpolitics@nytimes.com.

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