Newsom swats away Democratic challengers. Will his party live to regret it?


California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks at a press conference in Los Angeles, Calif. Mario Tama / Getty Images

SACRAMENTO – Governor Gavin Newsom’s camp has a message for Democrats considering a callback offer in California: don’t even think about it.

Even the mention of a candidacy is immediately condemned by Newsom attack dog Sean Clegg, while other Newsom deputies make it clear, publicly and privately, that any Democratic challenger becomes a persona non grata in the party.

Minutes after POLITICO reported Tuesday that former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer asked voters about his recall chances, Clegg tweeted that Steyer doesn’t want to be “the cynical, vulture-investing billionaire who opposes democratic unity for Trump Republican CA.” can take over. “”

After former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called for the California schools to be reopened in the wake of a possible candidacy, Clegg made a clear reprimand last week: “My old friend Antonio will embarrass himself and poison his legacy forever, when he runs, ”he wrote.

“This is how you lose,” said Clegg, a Newsom strategist, in an interview. “We have to keep our base.”

It is far from certain that California, likely this fall, will receive its second governor recall based on an official signature list released last week. The state’s unique recall system lends itself to a delicate intraparty dance. California asks two questions: first, you want to call Newsom back, and second, who should replace it if the recall succeeds? The rules do not allow Newsom to appear on that substitute list of competitors who would accept its job.

As the prospect of a Villaraigosa candidacy gained momentum in recent weeks, other Newsom allies sought to moderate this dynamic. Former spokesman for the assembly, Fabian Núñez, declined to share his private conversations with Villaraigosa, stressing that he was not speaking for the former mayor, but Núñez predicted that “at the end of the day, the entire democratic establishment and the Democratic activists will be active on the side of Governor Gavin Newsom. “

“We can’t make the same mistake twice” Núñez said, citing Democratic governor Cruz Bustamante’s unfortunate entry into the 2003 recall won by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. “I don’t see any Democrats repeating this exercise again.”

If Democrats play their cards wrong and Newsom is recalled without a leading Democrat as an option, a high-profile ID Republican could take the lead with a quarter of the vote in one of the bluest states in the country.

“The only time I’m worried about a Republican [not] That seat is won if a credible Democrat comes in, ”said Anne Dunsmore, who heads one of the recall committees that are close to qualifying for the election.

A Democratic legislature said this week that California’s two-question approach needs a revision. “The crazy thing about our system is that many more people can vote to keep the incumbent in office than the person who replaces the incumbent,” said Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica).

The subject of one Democrat who may enter the race is the prevailing obsession among elected officials, donors, and political advisors in California. There are two schools of thought. In one view, it would be an unforgivable oversight not to have a replacement candidate who would allow a Republican to run with multiple votes. On the other hand, joining a Democrat would signal weakness and disagreement when Newsom needs its allies more than ever – possibly to ensure that the second question is necessary.

The dance around the recall forces the California Democrats to reconcile two basic political motivations: self-preservation and opportunism. Any ambitious Democrat who runs and fails would be politically forgotten by the corporate ladder. Nobody has forgotten Bustamante’s implosion after jumping into the race in 2003. But the recall also offers a tempting chance to jump into the governor’s office.

For now, the Democrats have projected the unity behind Newsom. At each event, Democrats viewed as potential competitors have pledged allegiance to the governor and condemned the recall as a partisan diversion.

The governor’s team has also sought to quell a challenge from the left by reaching out to progressive California Democrat Ro Khanna for the support of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) And an endorsement from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). You’re trying to signal that Newsom has come up short at times, but he’s vastly superior to a Republican.

“I made the case [to Sanders] that he really had to weigh that this is a Republican attempt to take over California, ”Khanna said in an interview. “I understand that there can be a progressive disappointment [progressive] Goals not yet met like the payer but this is the time we really need to unite against the recall. “

Newsom remains in a relatively strong position with an approval rating of around 50 percent – far better than Governor Gray Davis before he was ousted by the electorate. Democrats contemplating a run will likely wait and see where Newsom is closer to an estimated candidate deadline.

“When I ask myself,” Will I be sailing in 90 days? “I’ll wait 89 days and see what the weather is like,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican political advisor who worked for Schwarzenegger.

If Newsom can’t muster a majority to fend off the recall, a Democrat would have great advantages on the second question, who should replace the governor. California remains a predominantly democratic state.

The greater benefit-risk calculation could favor the entry of a Democrat who currently does not hold a public office and therefore has less to lose. Political observers are closely monitoring Villaraigosa, who lost to Newsom in the 2018 gubernatorial primary. Villaraigosa, a public affairs partner at Mercury, is known and could activate a political support network in Los Angeles, a power base that would balance Newsom’s Bay Area roots.

The former mayor was cautious about his intentions and criticized the recall without expressly ruling out a run. But he was an outspoken critic of the continued school closings, a huge responsibility for Newsom. Education policy was a dividing line in primary school in 2018. Charter allies spent millions strengthening Villaraigosa and unions rallied to defend Newsom.

Steyer also threatens. The Democratic former presidential candidate has a long history in California politics of not losing office but considerable personal wealth to fund a campaign.

And there is always a nuclear option.

If polls show Newsom is in serious trouble as the recall approaches, the governor could step down. This would make it Lt. Allowing Governor Eleni Kounalakis to take the job and short circuit the Newsom-related recall – and undoubtedly solve Republicans’ problems.

“He could be fine in September and we’ll move on,” said Democratic political strategist Christine Pelosi, daughter of House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi. “But if he’s really under water, no Democrat might win. Then he should step down as governor and Eleni Kounalakis should be the governor and they should cancel the election. In that case, the Democratic Party would keep the governorship . ” . “

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