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Newsom embraces role as embattled Biden’s ‘cheerleader in chief’

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), one of President Biden’s ardent defenders, has emerged as a key public voice attempting to soothe Democratic fears over the incumbent.

Newsom was at last month’s debate and was quick to defend Biden after he delivered a widely panned performance against former President Trump. Since then, Newsom has visited the White House with other Democratic governors amid concerns over the president’s health and crisscrossed key battleground states in a bid to shore up support for him.

His effort comes as some in the party call for Biden to step aside to make room for a replacement — with Newsom himself often floated as one of the top contenders.

“I think the conventional wisdom here is that he or his team was preparing for this moment for quite some time so that he would be available to step up if it was the will of Democratic national delegates in the event that Mr. Biden ended his presidency prematurely,” said former California Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D). 

But while there have been some increased calls from Democratic members of Congress for Biden to step down, the president has been adamant that he is not going anywhere. Newsom echoed this sentiment on a campaign call with Biden’s campaign staff, noting what he had seen on the ground over the past week. 

“Every single event we had, every single stop we had, we exceeded expectations in terms of the number of people that showed up,” Newsom told the staff Monday. “They’re not giving into the cynicism. They’re not giving into the fear. They’re not giving into the anxiety. They’re showing up because they care. They care about the work you’re doing. They care about this president.”

Newsom acted as a prominent surrogate for Biden prior to the debate as well. In September, the governor was present in the GOP primary debate spin room outside of Los Angeles, defending the president and his agenda. 

An aide to Newsom called the effort part of a two-year-long push to make the case for Biden, visiting red states including Arkansas, Montana, Utah and Idaho. Newsom’s Campaign for Democracy PAC has raised more than $10 million for Biden’s campaign and down-ballot Democrats across the country this cycle. 

New Hampshire was Newsom’s latest stop on his tour of the eastern portion of the country. The California governor was in the electoral battlegrounds of Michigan and Pennsylvania last week. Whenever a politician visits New Hampshire, in particular, presidential primary speculation tends to follow, but Newsom’s visit comes as polling shows that Democrats could be playing defense in the traditionally blue state. A Saint Anselm College survey released last week showed Trump leading Biden 44 percent support to 42 percent in the Granite State.  

And the concern among Democrats being felt in New Hampshire reaches into other blue-leaning states as well. Republicans say they are feeling increasingly optimistic about their chances in Virginia and Minnesota, while the Democratic governors of Maine and New Mexico voiced concerns to Biden over his ability to carry those states in November. 

“In a period where many in our party are hand-wringing, Gavin Newsom is suited up and on the field,” said Joe Caiazzo, a New England-based Democratic strategist who met with Newsom in Boston this week as he was campaigning for Biden. 

Caiazzo referred to the California governor as “the cheerleader in chief.”

“One of the best features of Gavin Newsom is his ability to remind us of three things: our shared values and what we hope to accomplish, the enormous success of the Biden administration and the stakes of this election,” he said. 

But Newsom has also faced criticism from other Democrats and Republicans, who are quick to point out what they say are his obvious presidential aspirations. 

“I think he wakes up every morning, looks in the mirror and says, ‘How can I be president?’” said Steven Maviglio, a California-based Democratic strategist. “He’s been running a shadow campaign for the better part of two years and now he’s portraying himself as a good soldier for Biden, at the same time exposing himself to key blocs of the Democratic electorate.” 

It would take a lot for Newsom to lead the presidential ticket this cycle, given that Biden has said he is staying in, and Vice President Harris would be the heir apparent if he were to drop out. And if Harris did assume the top of the ticket, the chances of her choosing another Californian as a running mate would be low. 

Biden allies are quick to point out that Newsom is not the only rising Democratic star supporting the president. Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) was one of the public faces of Biden’s meeting with governors last week, while Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) was with Biden during his Pennsylvania campaign stop last week. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), who also has her own PAC committed to electing federal Democrats, has been one of Biden’s most vocal swing-state defenders. Many of these governors are also seen as gearing up for 2028. 

“They’re all playing a game of musical chairs,” said John Morgan, a Florida-based Democratic donor. “They’re all walking around, Harris, [Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear], Whitmer, Newsom, [Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker]. They’re walking around, and when the music stops, they’ll have to find a seat, and one by one they’ll be eliminated.”