California governor urges overhaul of Democrats’ strategy

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Saturday called for an overhaul of Democrats’ policy strategy, saying the party is being “crushed” in part by Republicans because they are too timid and are often forced to play defense while Republicans “with dominate illusion.”

Speaking at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin, Texas — Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s territory, one of Newsom’s key policy foils — Newsom made sure to eulogize current party leaders like President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi .

But he said mantras that may have worked for the party in the past — like Michele Obama’s famous joke, “when they’re low, we go up” — simply don’t work today because “this isn’t the moment where we live in the moment.”

“These guys are ruthless on the other side,” Newsom said. “Where are we? Where are we organizing a compelling alternative narrative from the bottom up? Where are we going on the offensive every day? They’re winning.”

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Newsom said that’s why — even though he’s running for re-election as California governor — he spent some of the millions of dollars in his campaign account on TV advertising in Florida urging people to move to California and newspaper ads in Texas that decrying the state’s gun laws; and putting up billboards in seven states urging women to come to California if they need an abortion.

“There’s nothing worse than someone pointing a finger. What are you going to do about it?” Newsom said. “The reason we’re doing these ads is because … the Democratic Party needs to do more of them.”

Of course, the main reason Newsom is able to do these things is that he has little pressure at home. Newsom is likely to step into a second term as California governor in November, facing a little-known and underfunded Republican challenger a year after defeating a recall attempt.

Newsom’s actions have fueled speculation that he could run for president, an idea he has repeatedly denied – again on Saturday in Texas. When asked if he was considering running for president in 2024 or 2028, Newsom said, “No, that’s not happening.”

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“I can’t say it enough,” he said. “I never trust politicians, so I understand why you keep asking.”

Newsom said that President Joe Biden’s first two years in office have been “a master class … in terms of substance and politics.” But he later said that good governance alone is not enough to win elections – adding that “otherwise Biden would be 75% in agreement”. In fact, according to the latest Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, about 53% of American adults disapprove of Biden.

The problem for Democrats, Newsom said, is that they “fall so easily in love” with “the guy or girl on the white horse who’s going to save the day.”

“We missed a more important paradigm, that leadership is not defined by this person with formal authority, but by people with moral authority every day,” he said.

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Newsom’s aggressiveness could help Abbott, who is in a more competitive race with former Congressman Beto O’Rourke. Kenneth Grasso, a political science professor at Texas State University, said some in the Republican Party have concerns that Abbott is “not conservative enough.” Newsom’s attacks on Abbott “just help him with these people,” Grasso said.

“If you emphasize that they are right-wingers, call them extremists, if you use that kind of language you will only increase their popularity among their own base,” he said.

Despite that risk, Texas Democrats appear to be welcoming Newsom’s attention.

“I like this guy,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said of Newsom. “I like the way he shows the contrast between what you’re doing in California and the narrow-minded, extremist positions that exist here in the state of Texas.”

The Texas Republican Party did not respond to an email seeking comment.

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