California’s sleepy governor’s race concludes Tuesday, and Democratic incumbent Gavin Newsom is a heavy favorite to win a second term leading the country’s most populous state, a platform that could propel him to a presidential run.
Last year, Newsom narrowly avoided recall due to criticism of his handling of the pandemic. More than 60% of the vote was cast in favor of keeping him in office, and that strong showing scared away any well-known Republican candidates from running in this year’s election.
Newsom barely campaigned, instead spending some of the tens of millions of dollars in his campaign account on ads in other states about gun control, abortion rights, and other issues in an attempt to reshape the national Democratic Party’s message.
He believes Democrats have ceded control of the political narrative to Republicans and wants them to be more aggressive. It’s a strategy that has gotten him a lot of media attention and fueled speculation that he’ll run for president.
“He’s already moved on from his reelection.” “He’s focused on being a national leader of his party and positioning himself for a White House run,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican political consultant based in California.
Newsom has repeatedly denied plans to run for president, stating that he supports President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, a fellow Californian and close friend. During the campaign’s only debate last month, Newsom promised to serve a full four-year term if re-elected.
But Newsom’s opponent, Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle, is skeptical.
“You are all aware that he is running for President of the United States. “It’s obvious,” Dahle said after the debate. “He’s not thinking about California.” And Californians are paying the price.”
Dahle ran for governor with little political risk because he didn’t have to give up his seat in the state’s sparsely populated northwest corner. However, he had difficulty raising funds in a year when Republican donors are more focused on California’s competitive U.S. House races, which will help determine which party controls Congress.
Dahle raised less than a million dollars, making an effective statewide campaign to introduce himself to voters impossible. He has been forced to rely on social media and traditional media coverage. He drove a semi truck around the state with a large campaign banner in the final weeks of the campaign.
“The power brokers are behind Gavin Newsom, and the majority of people believe this is a long shot,” Dahle said last month. “Republicans are having a difficult time in this state.”
Newsom’s lack of campaigning is unlikely to affect the outcome of his race, but it may have an impact on Democrats running for state legislative seats. Andrew Acosta, a Democratic political consultant based in California, noted a similar environment in 2014, when then-Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown did not campaign and won a second term with 60% of the vote, but Democrats lost some legislative seats.
“The governor’s race has been decided.” There are other contested races in California, Democrat vs. Republican races, and it will be interesting to see how some of these Democrats fare in a state where the governor could get 60% of the vote again,” Acosta said.
Newsom spent the final weekend of the campaign campaigning across the state to support other Democratic candidates and causes. On Sunday, he rallied voters to support a ballot initiative that would make abortion a constitutional right in California. He also appeared alongside two Democratic congressional candidates from Southern California, Christy Smith and U.S. Rep. Katie Porter.
With no domestic political threats, Newsom has spent much of his first term doing things that would make him appealing to Democratic presidential primary voters.
He signed more than a dozen new laws aimed at making California a safe haven for women seeking abortions from other states. He directed state regulators to prohibit the sale of most new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035.
His budget has paid for every 4-year-old to attend kindergarten for free, and he plans to cover the healthcare costs of all low-income immigrants in California who are illegally present in the country.