If Biden does not run in 2024 and Harris does, Newsom might not oppose her. There are practical reasons for that. Harris, despite collapsing in the 2020 presidential campaign, would have behind her the weight of her office and the historic nature of her position as the first woman and first Black vice president.
Newsom, who is only 54 and about to win a second term as governor, may have a better opening in 2028. And he has waited before, abandoning his first campaign for governor in 2009, months before the primary, once it became clear Brown was going to win.
But it is not clear to people who know Newsom that he would defer to Harris in an open presidential primary strictly out of personal loyalty. One Democratic strategist in the state who knows them both said, “Polite and civil publicly, but there’s no love lost there.” Another described their relationship as “tense, and highly competitive.”
If Newsom were to run against Harris in 2024 or 2028, said a major Democratic bundler in California, “the sitting vice president by definition” would be problematic for him due to the stature of her office.
“But Gavin’s donors like him better than her donors like her,” he said.
When I asked the bundler, who is familiar with both of their operations, if those donors aren’t the same, with Harris and Newsom sharing a San Francisco are base of support, he said, “Right. That’s what I’m trying to say.”
Of Newsom, the bundler said, “He’s doing what you do. Be a successful two-term governor of a large state, raise a shit-ton of money, make yourself known on national issues that people admire, and you throw your hat in the ring. There’s no reason for him not to. At best he wins president. At worst, he’s made a secretary of some department.”
The real obstacle for Newsom may not be Harris so much as the state they both come from. In his ad in Florida and billboards in other red states, Newsom is offering California as an alternative — a haven for abortion rights or, in the case of the Florida ad, a state “where we still believe in freedom.” In that way, he is following a long tradition of California exceptionalism espoused by the state’s governors of both parties. Then-Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in his 2007 State of the State address, called California “the modern equivalent of the ancient city states of Athens and Sparta,” with the wherewithal not only to “lead California into the future,” but to “show the nation and the world how to get there.” Newsom, in his own State of the State address in March, said that amid “powerful forces and loud voices stoking fear and seeking to divide us,” there is “a better way — a California Way — forward.” And it’s difficult to spend any amount of time with a California politician without them volunteering, as Newsom did during his on-stage remarks in Austin, that California, if it were a nation, would have the world’s fifth-largest economy.
Elizabeth Ashford, who was a senior adviser in Brown and Schwarzenegger’s offices and chief of staff to Harris when she was state attorney general, described Newsom’s positioning of California against the governors of Texas and Florida as “falling into a longer tradition of California governors making sure we are, in a sense, exporting our culture to the rest of the country,” recognizing that California “is a physical place, but it’s also an emotional and cultural destination.”
But it’s not that for everyone — or even most Americans. The national electorate is not as liberal as California’s. The cost of living is astronomical there. Homelessness is an epidemic, and the state’s K-12 public schools rank among the lowest in the country.