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Gavin Newsom as Democratic presidential nominee in 2024? Could happen


There’s a widespread perception that Joe Biden will not run again. He’d be 82 in 2024, if he lives that long. Americans might not be comfortable re-electing a man who could easily die in office. Of course, Biden seems healthy now, and we’re likely, in the next several years, to see images of him on a treadmill, or lifting weights—certainly trotting up the stairs to Air Force One–to reassure the American people of his fitness.

But let’s say he backs down in 2024. That would leave the Democratic field wide open. Kamala Harris, as the sitting vice president, would have the edge for the nomination—in theory. Democrats have been very consistent in nominating vice presidents for president: Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Al Gore, and Joe Biden. Kamala would benefit from this tradition.

But things don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to. Kamala is not without her weaknesses. The American people have never elected a woman as president. They have elected a Black man as president—Obama—but Kamala, for all her strengths, is no Obama. That doesn’t mean she couldn’t get the nomination, but Republicans will pull out every racist, misogynistic weapon they have, and they have plenty. The polls, going into the 2024 primary season, will instruct Democrats if Kamala has any chance of getting elected. If they indicate she does not, Democratic eyes will wander to other possibilities.

One of those possibilities is sitting Democratic governors. That is a group that has been very successful in winning Democratic nominations for president (whether or not they actually won). Al Smith, FDR, Stevenson, Carter, Clinton all were governors. If the party decides a governor has the best chance to be elected, the obvious choices would be the Democratic governors of the biggest, bluest states in the union: Andrew Cuomo, of New York, and Gavin Newson, of California.

Cuomo has lots going for him. His father Mario, also a New York governor, probably could have had the 1984 nomination had he really wanted it. Andrew, the son, is telegenic and articulate. He acquainted himself to millions of Americans through his daily coronavirus briefings, a form of “earned media” that money can’t buy. According to the online site, “Andrew Cuomo is described by fans as: Competent, Intelligent, Strong, Credible and Stands up for ordinary people.” Their poll found Cuomo to be the 10th most popular Democrat in America, compared to Newsom, the 39th most popular. Clearly, Andrew Cuomo would be a force to be reckoned with in 2024.

Then there’s Newsom. Tall, as photogenic if not more so than Cuomo, the California governor is usually described as a policy wonk—not a bad thing in a country that, in 2024, will be facing enormous challenges (as usual). After the dereliction of Donald Trump, voters might be looking for someone who, they believe, actually reads his briefing papers, trusts scientists and policy experts, and analyzes events, rather than reacting personally to them. Newsom is as ambitious as Cuomo, maybe more so. Newsom has had his share of problems in the past: an affair with a close friend’s wife, a period of excessive drinking that forced him into rehab, and what some perceive as a bungled response to COVID. But Cuomo, too, has had his ups and downs with his own response to the pandemic, and Cuomo, too, has been implicated in a sex scandal.

Newsom’s wonkiness makes him non-warm-and-fuzzy. He’s not the sort of politician a voter might want to have a beer with (as opposed, say, to Barack Obama). There’s something aloof and slightly slick about him: Gavin, with the pomaded hair. He talks a lot—too much, some would say, using 25 words where half that many would do. He’s famous for jargon and buzzwords, which can sometimes leave voters scratching their heads. In a famous interview with Stephen Colbert, the late-night comedian reacted this way to Newsom:

Colbert: How can we take the town square digital? […]

Newsom: The whole idea is this: Right now, we have a broadcast model of governing. You vote and I decide. You understand this intimately. You’ve seen the contours of this change in the media and certainly in the music industry. Big is getting small and small is getting big. Technology has the ability to level the playing field.

Colbert: What the fuck does any of that mean?

At the same time, while California voters know that Newsom is long-winded, they don’t seem to care. It’s part of his shtick. His popularity remains about as high as Cuomo’s, in New York (both in the mid-50s). Voters know he’s struggled with coronavirus, but their thinking seems to be, “Who hasn’t? Maybe he’s been a little inconsistent with closures, but so has every other governor and leader in the world. At least, Gavin’s smart and well-motivated. He’s doing the best he can.”

One factor that will feed into the 2024 primary process, and influence whether Newsom runs at all, is a looming recall of him. Republicans loathe him (predictably). They have launched a petition drive to get a recall on the statewide ballot, perhaps in June. It seems to me likely that the petition drive will be successful: enough signatures will be gathered to put the issue up for election. At this time, I don’t see it succeeding. You have to keep in mind that, if Newsom beats a recall, it will redound to his credit. “They tried to overthrow him, and failed.” When now-Senator Dianne Feinstein was mayor of San Francisco in the mid-1980s, her opponents similarly forced a recall on the ballot. It failed, spectacularly, and Feinstein, more popular than ever, went on to win a Senate seat.

Newsom also has going for him a gorgeous family (which never hurts in campaign commercials). He’ll have a ton of money behind him if he decides to run in the primaries. If he gets the nomination, it will be the culmination of more than 30 years of campaigning and politics—and he’ll still be only 57 years old in 2024. If his opponent is Trump (either as a Republican or an Independent), the outcome is ambiguous: who knows how that will play? If it’s another Republican—Pence, Cruz, Rubio, or one of their ilk—Newsom will pillory him for Trumpism, which, by 2024, is likely to loom as a huge indictment.

2024 is a long way off, but you can’t count Gavin Newsom out. I confess to being a fan. I think he’d make a fine president, especially if Biden has a successful first term (overcoming COVID, restoring the economy, combating global warming, infrastructure funding, foreign policy achievements). Newsom is a smart, politically savvy man. He’s thinking about 2024 and is laying the groundwork even now. His selection of Alex Padilla to replace Harris in the U.S. Senate—against the advice of many of his advisors who wanted him to choose a Black woman—tells me that Newsom is already playing to the stands: he knows that LatinX voters are on the increase in America, and are up for grabs. He’ll have his hands full for the next two years (he’s up for re-election in 2022), with businesses leaving California for Texas, with fracking, with police reform and taxes and the state’s economy creaking under the pandemic and the housing shortage and all the other challenges California faces. Managerial competence will be more valuable than ever—and one thing Newsom is perceived to possess, whether you like him or not, is competence. Cuomo, too, scores high in competence. In that, both governors have something in common with the latest Democrat to get elected president: Joe Biden.

  1. I’m with you, I like Gavin, but I do worry the democrats will eat their own, and seek too much purity in their candidates (ala Franken). That said, only 3 more weeks…crossing the fingers!

  2. We’re all crossing our fingers! The sociopath in the White House is capable of anything at this point.

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