Newsom emerges as star Biden defender

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is emerging as a vocal defender of President Biden and his reelection campaign, after fending off speculation that he could challenge Biden for the White House in 2024.

Newsom has batted away concerns about the president’s age and boosted Vice President Harris, while also feuding with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and mocking the GOP impeachment effort against Biden.

“I think it’s sort of a win-win. Having somebody out there who will mix up with Republicans is good for all Democrats, but in the same way, I think, getting your national profile raised is good for any politician,” Democratic strategist Eddie Vale said.

Though he’s long been floated as a possible White House contender as he steps further into the national spotlight, the California governor is shutting down the suggestion that he could challenge the incumbent president in the upcoming race.

In recent interviews, he’s vigorously defended the administration and the reelection campaign.

Pressed about a possible 2024 run in a “Meet the Press” interview on NBC earlier this month, Newsom said it’s “time to move on.”

“I think we need to move past this notion that [Biden’s] not going to run. President Biden is going to run, and we’re looking forward to getting him reelected,” Newsom said. He called the Biden tenure “one of the most outstanding administrations in the last few decades.”

On CNN over the weekend, Newsom defended the president against persistent concerns about his age, lauding Biden as a “a seasoned pro that knows how to get things done.”

In an interview on NewsNation’s “CUOMO,” Newsom was asked why he doesn’t make a White House run himself.

“Because I believe in this guy,” Newsom said of Biden. “His character, his decency and his capacity to do great things. That’s why. I’m not worthy of that conversation. This guy deserves it. And we, as members of the party, deserve to have his back.” NewsNation is owned by Nexstar Media Group, which also owns The Hill.

The California governor has “very purposefully” made it clear that he’s backing the sitting president, positioning himself as “a team player” ready to defend the Democratic ticket up and down, Vale said.

Vale said he thinks there’s room for “newer, younger, different people” from outside the D.C. bubble, like Newsom, to step up as national surrogates for the campaign — and he predicted we could see similar action from other Democratic governors as the 2024 cycle heats up.

And as some suggest the vice president should be replaced on Biden’s 2024 ticket, Newsom is also explicitly praising Harris, a move that tamps down speculation that he could be vying for his fellow Californian’s second-in-command spot.

Newsom told CNN that Harris is “absolutely” the right running mate choice for Biden, contending she “gets to lay claim and credit” to a lot of the administration’s successes.

Newsom said on NBC that, if Biden doesn’t run, “the vice president is naturally the one lined up.”

Both Biden and Harris have been burdened by poor poll numbers, leaving some to question how much Harris is helping the reelection bid, though many Biden allies are shrugging off those worries at this point in the race. Harris has also faced criticism from Republican candidates, some of whom argue that a vote for Biden, given his age, is a vote for Harris to eventually take on the presidential responsibilities.

Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D), a fellow Californian, deferred to Biden when asked on CNN whether Harris is the best running mate for him.

“He thinks so, and that’s what matters,” Pelosi said, though she later heaped praise on the vice president and said “people shouldn’t underestimate what Kamala Harris brings to the table.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) also sidestepped around a CNN question about whether Harris is Biden’s best running mate, saying Pelosi “gave the right answer.”

“That’s President Biden’s choice. And I think she’s an excellent running mate for President Biden,” Raskin said.

Newsom’s enthusiastic support of Harris is notable, though it could make things awkward down the line, some strategists suggest, in the hypothetical that both Harris and Newsom vie for the White House in the future.

But Democratic strategist David Thomas said it would be “much more awkward” if Newsom wasn’t throwing his weight behind the 2024 campaign, even if he has future ambitions.

“I want somebody who’s gonna be engaged and involved in supporting the team we’ve got on the field. Then in the future, we can see, ‘Alright, is this the kind of person that we want to lead the charge for us?’” Thomas said.

Asked on NBC whether he could imagine ever having to run against Harris, Newsom said, “Of course not. By definition. Won’t happen.”

Steven Maviglio, a Sacramento-based Democratic strategist, said he thinks Newsom realized challenging Biden wasn’t in the cards this time around and moved on to “Plan B” of positioning himself as a vocal, supportive surrogate, laying the groundwork for future ambitions and avoiding the risk of “anyone saying in the future that his actions hurt Biden or he wasn’t supportive enough.”

“It’s a win-win situation for him. He’s a lame duck governor with a lot of ambition, and it serves to hold him in good stead, if there’s a second Biden administration, for a post there, and to position himself as a cheerleader for the party for the future,” Maviglio said.

Newsom is a popular governor of the country’s most populous state — factors that boost the Biden campaign as he praises the ticket, strategists suggest. He also has leeway to get more aggressive with Republicans.

Maviglio said the governor feels Democrats need to be “more confrontational” with their messaging against Republicans, and taking it upon himself to do so is probably “much appreciated by the Biden administration.”

He’s taken swipes at DeSantis, a 2024 GOP candidate for the presidency, and challenged him to a debate. He’s recently criticized the GOP impeachment inquiry into Biden as “a joke.” And he’s gotten terse with Democrats, too, telling The New York Times that the party needs to “buck up” and get behind the president.

“I think being very visible and vocal supporting the president makes a lot of sense in the short term because he’s helping President Biden and Harris win reelection, but I think it also helps with the long term, because if he has his eyes on running a nationwide campaign in the future, what better way to be visible than going out around the country and supporting a fellow Democrat?” Thomas said of Newsom. “I actually think it’s pretty smart politics.”

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