The California governor, who’s already running ads in other states, is poised to challenge Vice President Kamala Harris
California Governor Gavin Newsom is “undeniably, unequivocally” planning to run for president in 2024 if President Biden chooses not to seek a second term, two individuals with knowledge of Newsom’s plans told TheWrap.
“After this midterm election is over, he absolutely is going to announce that he is running for the presidency once Biden announces that he is not running,” a leading California fundraiser with close ties to the Newsom family told TheWrap. “No ifs, ands or buts. He will run if Biden does not.”
A second individual close to the governor, a Los Angeles philanthropist with deep connections in the Democratic Party and a long history of fundraising for its candidates, confirmed Newsom’s intention to run.
But is Biden running again? In a “60 Minutes” interview that aired on Sunday, Biden told CBS’ Scott Pelley that it’s “much too early” to make a decision on that. “Look, my intention, as I said to begin with, is that I would run again,” Biden said. “But it’s just an intention. But is it a firm decision that I run again? That remains to be seen.”
Officially, Newsom — a Democrat who’s expected to easily win a second term in California’s gubernatorial race this November — has said he has “sub-zero interest” in running for president in 2024. A staffer in Newsom’s administration reiterated that statement to TheWrap.
But his recent actions have already begun to create a much higher profile for the former San Francisco mayor beyond California. On Friday, the governor was in the news when he launched billboard campaigns in Texas, Indiana, Mississippi, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota and Oklahoma attacking abortion restrictions in those individual states. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has become a wedge issue in elections across the country. Newsom’s billboards direct people to a website – abortion.ca.gov – with information on how to obtain an abortion in California.
Last week, Newsom also issued a public debate challenge to Florida Governor Ron de Santis — who has emerged in recent polls as Republicans’ best bet to challenge Biden in 2024 – with the quip, “I’ll bring my hair gel. You bring your hairspray.”
Hey @GovRonDeSantis, clearly you're struggling, distracted, and busy playing politics with people’s lives. Since you have only one overriding need — attention –let's take this up & debate. I’ll bring my hair gel. You bring your hairspray. Name the time before Election Day. @CNN https://t.co/vTJHQxfArW
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) September 16, 2022
But the first big clue that the governor’s political plans extend beyond the Golden State occurred in July, when Newsom ran a TV ad campaign that aired in Florida and Ohio, which criticized the Republican Party’s shift to the right on issues such as abortion and free speech.
There have been further indications that Newsom is preparing to beef up his war chest for a national run. According to CNBC, a Wall Street executive who raised money for Biden’s 2020 campaign met with Newsom in recent weeks. The governor has also been networking with Heather Podesta, a veteran DC lobbyist, to meet with “dozens of wealthy donors” for a Democratic Governors Association event, CNBC reported. TheWrap’s insiders also confirmed Newsom is speaking with political consultants with national election experience.
The Democratic fundraiser noted that the governor “has gotten much more moderate in the last few years” after many years waving the progressive banner, including championing gay marriage in San Francisco when he was mayor there from 2004-2011. Historically, presidential candidates have had to play more politically in the center to win in the general election.
“Just look at some of the bills he started vetoing [in California],” the fundraiser pointed out. “He has done everything to play toward the middle. But he’s not at all scared to get up and just go after opponents on important issues. He can be a real attack dog.”
For example, recently Newsom rejected a bill that would have allowed California cities to set up sites where addicts could take drugs, showing he’s willing to oppose certain liberal segments of his own party. Newsom will need that toughness if he runs, since the Republican nominee might be former President Donald Trump.
The insiders we spoke with don’t expect Newsom to make any formal announcement that he’ll seek the presidency for several months at least. It would be bad form, the Democratic fundraiser said, to announce future plans while he’s running for a second term as governor. “That would be a real no-no, while this race is still pending,” the individual said.
A recent UC-Berkeley Institute of Government studies poll found that 61% of California don’t want Biden to seek re-election. The poll, released on Aug. 19, also found that Newsom and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) top the list of California presidential preferences for the 2024 Democratic primary.
Of course, Vice President Kamala Harris — who won statewide races in California as attorney general and U.S. Senator — is expected to seek the presidency should Biden decide not run for a second term. Yet even though Newsom and Harris share California ties, the insiders TheWrap spoke with say that wouldn’t stop the governor from challenging her.
One of the insiders who confirmed Newsom’s presidential plans, the L.A. philanthropist, previously supported and fundraised for Harris’ 2020 presidential campaign. The individual said many in the Democratic Party now question whether Harris can rally the national support needed to fight the GOP in 2024.
“There’s going to be a ton of people coming out against Kamala if Biden doesn’t run,” said the L.A. philanthropist, whose previous support of Harris goes back to when she served as district attorney in San Francisco from 2004-2011 while Newsom was mayor.
Biden and Harris’ offices didn’t respond to TheWrap’s requests for comment.
As Newsom quietly builds toward a potential 2024 presidential run, he’s currently running against Republican Brian Dahle, a member of the California state senate, in this year’s gubernatorial election. His current re-election effort has attracted a broad range of support from Hollywood and the tech industry, including Jeffrey Katzenberg, Haim Saban, JJ Abrams and Silicon Valley titans Ron Conway and Eric Schmidt — a solid base that Newsom could seek to tap for a possible presidential run.