With a triumphant primary win, Newsom eyes the road ahead

Gov. Gavin Newsom was as unconcerned about Tuesday’s primary as most Californians.

The Democrat cast his ballot that morning in Sacramento without news cameras. He didn’t stop campaigning, didn’t throw an election night party. Twenty minutes after polling stations closed, he was declared the winner and his subsequent social media posts made no mention of the race or his eventual opponent.

“Republicans across the country are attacking our fundamental rights as Americans. Destroying democracy, depriving a woman of the right to vote and watching gun violence claim far too many lives,” Newsom said. California is “the antidote – leading with compassion, common sense and science. To the continuation of this fight.”

Hidden in the statement was Newsom’s strategy for what comes next. With little chance of losing in November and unencumbered by typical re-election politics, he is willing to instead focus on continuing to bring the state into the national debate on reproductive rights and gun control, issues close to Californians’ hearts and beyond that could strengthen its political profile.

“It just sits there on his lap whether he wants it or not,” said Darry Sragow, a veteran Democratic strategist and editor of the nonpartisan California Target Book. “He has the opportunity to help shape the national dialogue on these social issues. The question is how visible does he want to be and how assertive does he want to be to increase his visibility.”

On Tuesday, Newsom defeated gubernatorial primary runner-up Senator Brian Dahle by nearly 40 points. Dahle, a Bieber Republican, won much of his own district, which borders the Oregon and Nevada borders in the northeast corner of the state, while Newsom took the rest of California.

The results suggest the political landscape has changed little for Newsom since he passed the recall last year and garnered 61% support of voters to keep his job despite the COVID-19 pandemic, wildfires, of drought and a cascade of other problems to keep.

“It’s been overwhelming voter support, and for anyone who emerges from a recall like this, it only strengthens you and makes you more determined to move forward,” said Juan Rodriguez, Newsom’s campaign manager.

This time, Newsom is expected to rely on the same playbook he used in the recall election – voting as a choice between the state’s progressive ideals and those championed by supporters of former President Trump.

Dahle’s lower profile, a major fundraising disadvantage, and his GOP affiliation make his odds of winning in November very slim. A potential US Supreme Court ruling on abortion rights and the gun control debate provide Newsom with another contrast between himself and a Republican opponent.

“I think we’re all predicting that once that ruling comes out, it’s going to be something that Democrats across the country are using to motivate the grassroots,” Rodriguez said. “It’s an awakening for Democrats that November will see democracy up for grabs.”

Newsom and lawmakers are trying to make abortion rights more than a symbolic issue this fall. Newsom has approved legislative plans to put a measure on November’s election that would urge voters to enshrine abortion and contraceptive rights in California’s constitution.

That could put pressure on Republicans, who are fighting for hotly contested congressional seats and other balloting offices, to take a stance on abortion rights in a state where more than three-quarters of likely voters oppose overthrowing Roe vs. Wade. The amendment gives Newsom, who has called abortion rights “the defining issue of the 2022 election,” a chance to influence congressional elections and define himself as a champion of reproductive rights.

On Thursday, Newsom shared a stage with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss their climate change cooperation at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles. Trudeau said that “Canadians are impressed by Governor Newsom” at a time of political uncertainty around the world and in the United States. Newsom thanked the Canadian government for supporting California during its battle with the Trump administration over vehicle emissions and commended Trudeau for his work on gun safety.

“You contrast that with the lack of leadership, the cowards that continue to dominate the national debate on gun safety policy,” Newsom said.

Newsom’s uncompetitive race frees him to fight for California’s more progressive ideals, but also to occasionally disagree with liberal groups on other controversial issues and risk little electoral backlash.

Although Newsom and his advisers carefully suggested that the ambitious homelessness plan he unveiled in March halts at a more conservative approach to coerce people with substance abuse and psychotic disorders into treatment, the proposal has been criticized by civil and disability rights groups, who argue it would do just that while criminalizing poverty and homelessness.

Sragow called Newsom’s proposal “just right” among state voters who want to see people who could pose a danger to themselves or others get help. He said it could also help Newsom prove later that he’s not as wildly liberal as voters from other places see him.

“It’s an opportunity for him to portray himself as someone who might be acceptable to many voters living somewhere between California and New York as president or certainly on the national stage,” Sragow said.

While those close to Newsom have said he sees value in setting a national agenda and helping shape the Democratic Party, he has repeatedly denied having any White House ambitions.

Dahle said Newsom should pay less attention to national issues that don’t affect Californians and instead respond to the problems that have worsened under his oversight: homelessness, crime and the rising cost of gasoline.

“He’s running for president and everyone knows it,” Dahle said. “He just doesn’t say it. If he were focusing on California, he wouldn’t be talking about what’s happening in other states. He would focus on what’s happening in California.”

Despite being well-positioned as the national Democratic leader, California governors rarely find a path to the presidency. Newsom would also need to be careful to avoid past mistakes, such as his visit to a fancy Napa Valley restaurant in the first year of the pandemic that tarnished his reputation.

He might also have a hard time transcending the persona that defines him in the minds of many voters across the country. During his first year as governor, Newsom imposed a moratorium on executions on death row. Before that, he fought for the legalization of marijuana. Newsom has also been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights.

“Even though he’s trying to move more toward the center, his record is there and it’s very liberal,” said Sarah Hill, a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton.

Newsom advisors hope the primary will be seen as a key moment in his political legacy.

He named Senator Alex Padilla as California’s first Latino US Senator in 2020, filling Padilla’s previous job with Secretary of State Shirley Weber, the first black woman to hold the position. Months later he appointed the first Philippine Attorney General, Rob Bonta.

All three passed their first test with voters, receiving more than 50% of the vote in each of their respective primary elections.

“He deserves much credit for seizing these three opportunities to make great strides in the diversity of our community of elected officials representing and speaking for California,” Sragow said. “All three are in strong political positions and to the extent that you’re always judged as a winner or loser in the world of politics, he looks like a winner because he makes good decisions and good decisions.”

Times contributor Phil Willon contributed to this report.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-06-10/with-a-triumphant-california-primary-win-gavin-newsom-eyes-the-road-ahead With a triumphant primary win, Newsom eyes the road ahead

Alley Einstein

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