🔒 Gavin Newsom poised as potential Biden successor: Erika D. Smith

California Governor Gavin Newsom made headlines by supporting President Joe Biden at the Atlanta debate, but Biden’s frail appearance fueled speculation about his candidacy. Newsom, with his strong campaign skills and fundraising prowess, is seen as a potential Democratic replacement. Despite consistently denying presidential ambitions, Newsom’s actions and high profile suggest he is ready to step up if needed. Many Democrats might find relief in his potential candidacy.

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By Erika D. Smith

When cameras captured California Governor Gavin Newsom walking into CNN’s spin room on Thursday evening, flashing his Hollywood smile before the presidential debate in Atlanta, a few political observers in his home state rushed to social media with some version of the same annoyed question. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Why is he there?” 

Newsom was there to cheer on President Joe Biden before his debate with former President Donald Trump.  “Biden is confident,” Newsom told reporters. “He’s got a record and he’s got a vision for the future.” 

A couple of painful hours later, after a debate in which Biden, his voice raspy and halting, looked every bit of his 81 years, that vision for the future seemed cloudy. Biden’s pale and frail appearance led to immediate and widespread speculation that he would be pushed to decline the Democratic nomination. And that kind of talk, in turn, leads quickly to Newsom. 

Of the many prominent Democrats with aspirations for higher office, Newsom is arguably best equipped — in fundraising chops, in messaging and in campaign infrastructure — to step up in an emergency. And this is, by all indications, an emergency. 

The 90 minutes that Biden spent on stage with Trump, live before millions of viewers, ultimately served to reinforce what polls have indicated since Biden decided to run for reelection: Most voters believe he is too old to be president. 

The panic among Democratic Party insiders could ease in coming days if post-debate polling doesn’t turn out to be as dire as many suspect. But if the party is looking for a replacement, Newsom is an obvious choice. Fellow Californian Vice President Kamala Harris could do the job, of course. But polling typically shows Harris with high unfavorable numbers and, if Biden’s candidacy goes south, her ties to the president may be more trouble than help. 

Meanwhile, Newsom, the governor of the nation’s most populous state, has long appeared to be running a sort of shadow campaign as Biden’s backup. He has emerged as one of the president’s most effective and telegenic surrogates, a frequent presence on cable news and aggressive on social media.

Newsom hasn’t shied away from the culture wars, winning fans in some Democratic circles. For example, in a splashy debate last fall on Fox News against his favorite Republican opponent, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Newsom called out DeSantis for his policies banning books, whitewashing Black history and targeting transgender student athletes. 

“You attack vulnerable communities,” Newsom told DeSantis. “You’re nothing but a bully. I understand that intimidating and humiliating people, that’s your calling card.”

Now in his second and last term as governor, Newsom also has campaign cash and access to more. He has used his fundraising prowess to support Democratic candidates running in red states and to push solidly liberal causes, such as abortion rights. 

Newsom also has been raising his profile overseas, much to the aggravation of many who want his attention in California. Last month, he was at the Vatican to talk with Pope Francis about climate change. Last year, he met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and also visited Israel. Closer to home, he has been back and forth to the White House. He’s doing that thing that all presidential hopefuls do: He is working on a memoir.

Newsom has consistently dismissed speculation that he is running for president. At the debate, he didn’t change his tune. 

Cornered by a scrum of reporters, he was asked if he was “ready to replace Joe Biden.” Newsom called the idea “a non sequitur.” Asked whether he would urge Biden to reconsider running.  “Absolutely not,” Newsom told them. “I have his back 100 percent.”

It’s a measure of the press frenzy caused by the debate that, a few minutes after that, Newsom was asked yet again, this time on MSNBC, whether the debate had shaken the presidential race. Newsom shook his head angrily. “We’ve got to go in and got to keep our heads high,” he said. “We’ve got to have the back of this President. You don’t turn your back because of one performance. And what kind of party does that?”

A better question — and one that Newsom should consider — is what kind of party nominates a candidate who most Americans are convinced is too old to handle the pressures of the presidency – and a candidate who could very well lose to a would-be autocrat who traffics in lies and hate?

The stakes are too high. 

Newsom on Thursday told reporters that it’s unhelpful to our democracy to “go down these rabbit holes” about replacing Biden. But then he added: “This country, the world, they need us right now to step up and that’s exactly what I intend to do.”

Many Democrats would no doubt be relieved if he did.

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