Newsom trades barbs with Dahle in California’s only 2022 gubernatorial debate
Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Sen. Brian Dahle clashed over gas prices, homelessness and abortion rights during the only debate between the two gubernatorial candidates in an otherwise sleepy race for the most powerful post in the state of California.
Newsom is expected to win a second term in the November election against the Republican farmer from rural Northern California, who hammered the governor on Sunday for focusing more on his national ambitions than fixing the problems vexing the state.
“The governor is focused on his message to America,” Dahle said. “Californians are fleeing California for one reason — because they can’t afford to live here — and he’s out of touch with everyday, hardworking, middle-class Californians.”
The match-up, hosted by KQED on a sunny day in San Francisco, marked one of the few times Newsom has acknowledged his opponent’s existence since the contest began. In the sometimes intense debate, Newsom cast the state senator from Bieber as a Trump Republican, misaligned with California voters.
“I was out of state for a few hours to take on his party and his leader of his party, Donald Trump, who he is a passionate supporter of,” Newsom said. “I’ve had enough. So, I’ll proudly and happily stand up. What you don’t do is stand up to Big Oil and these big interests.”
With his second-place finish in California’s June primary, Northern California Republican state Sen.
Throughout the one-hour event, the two candidates appeared to be debating two different California realities.
Dahle blamed Newsom’s policies for the state’s highest-in-the-nation gasoline prices, struggling public schools, unreliable electrical grid and affordability problems.
Newsom touted California’s economic growth compared to the rest of the country, low unemployment rate and the clean energy jobs created under policies to reduce fossil fuels.
“We have seeded transformative reforms and I couldn’t be more proud of those efforts despite your consistent opposition,” Newsom said.
From the day he launched his campaign earlier this year, Dahle has been an underdog in the race by any definition. He trails far behind Newsom in fundraising, name recognition and polling of likely voters. He acknowledged that he’s fighting “an uphill battle.”
“Look, it’s tough to raise money in California,” Dahle said to reporters. “The power brokers are behind Gavin Newsom and most people think this is a long shot.”
While Newsom easily draws media attention as the governor of the most populous state in the country, it’s been more difficult for Dahle to break through and spread his message to Californians with limited campaign funds.
And Newsom hasn’t made it any easier for Dahle by largely ignoring the race in his home state.
Governor has strong lead for reelection, even though voters see the state on the wrong track.
Newsom has not run a single ad promoting his reelection campaign for governor since before the June primary. Meanwhile, he paid for billboards in conservative states promoting California’s abortion rights and took out advertisements in Florida criticizing the state’s GOP leaders.
When asked Sunday, Newsom committed to serving for all four years of his second term, if reelected.
“All he needs to do is do what it takes to win and he’s using his resources to set up potential for other future endeavors nationally,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican political consultant.
A listless competition at the top of the ticket could suppress voter turnout and bring negative consequences for down-ballot races, including congressional contests in California that could determine the balance of power in Washington.
To help inspire turnout among Democrats, Newsom has turned his attention to Proposition 1, which would harden California’s already strong abortion protections. The Democrat-controlled state Legislature placed the measure on the November ballot in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe vs. Wade.
The governor, who favors abortion rights, has spent at least $2 million of his own campaign funds to air ads in support of Prop. 1. Dahle gave $20,000 to the opposition campaign.
“He does not support reproductive freedom, does not support reproductive choice, regardless of rape, regardless of incest,” Newsom said of Dahle.
Newsom has beckoned women from other states with more restrictive policies to travel to California for abortion services. The state budget passed in June included $200 million in new spending for reproductive healthcare services and outreach.
Proposition 1 would amend the state Constitution to add protections for abortion rights.
Dahle said he is antiabortion and criticized the governor’s effort to pay for abortion services for out-of-state residents “at the expense of California taxpayers.”
Dahle also blamed Newsom for California’s worsening homelessness crisis.
The governor boldly proclaimed in early 2020 that homelessness was solvable and promised to marshal the full force of his administration to fix the problem. But the state counted more unhoused residents this year than before the pandemic began.
“The governor is focused on running for president and he’s going to leave California, just like he left San Francisco with homeless people all over the street when he said he was going to solve those issues,” Dahle said.
He criticized Newsom for throwing money at problems instead of crafting good public policy.
But Newsom adopted a more conservative approach to homelessness this year with CARE Court, a program he championed to force care for an estimated 7,000 to 12,000 Californians experiencing homelessness and suffering from severe mental illness.
Dahle has previously called for a crackdown on homeless encampments, greater incentives for drug users and the mentally ill to receive treatment when provided housing and audits of homelessness programs. On Sunday, he said he would call a state of emergency to address fentanyl, boost county mental health funding and try to drive down the cost of housing.
“His entire policy for homelessness is some illusory policy of, ‘Well, we’ll just do an audit,’” Newsom said. “I’ve been around long enough to know when someone says their response to a problem is an audit, they don’t have a response.”
What do you need to know about the 2022 election? Find out with these voting guides for local and California races and state propositions.
The forum of Sunday’s debate was similar to Newsom’s sparring match on KQED in 2018 with his general election opponent John Cox. The two faced off on a federal holiday through a radio-only format that lacked television cameras and the prime-time audience typical for such high-profile races.
This time the station offered live video and radio streams of the forum and planned to broadcast the debate on KQED Public Television in the evening.
The timing left the debate competing for attention with the National Football League on Sunday.
“This isn’t exactly the Super Bowl of gubernatorial elections,” said Robin Swanson, a Democratic political consultant. “It’s not an equal matchup. So, I’m not expecting there to be a huge viewership.”
Stutzman, the GOP political consultant, said it’s clear that the governor’s team is “hiding behind” the lineup of football games. Holding the debate on a weekday, by comparison, would have allowed television stations all over California to carry it on prime-time evening news programs.
Though Newsom is heavily favored to win, he also has more to lose than Dahle, Stutzman said.
“That’s why front-runners never want to debate and a lot of them don’t,” he said.
The two candidates ended the debate on friendly terms after Dahle noted that he’s hosted 127 legislators — Democrats and Republicans — in his district. Newsom, he said, never took up his offer to come fishing.
“I believe in working together and getting things done with people and listening more and understanding that there’s two sides to every story and when you find out the other side, you can have more compassion, you can understand, you can learn from it,” Dahle said.
Newsom pledged to work with Dahle, “in your respective role as state senator, hopefully, if I’m successful in continuing this role as governor of California.”
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