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Newsom launches national campaign to fight ‘authoritarian leaders’

Gov. Gavin Newsom talks, gesturing with his left hand, as he gives the inaugural address after taking the oath of office
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at his inauguration ceremony in Sacramento on Jan. 6.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)
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California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday launched a national campaign to counter the GOP agenda and announced that he’s hitting the road to “take the fight to states where freedom is most under attack.”

The Democratic governor transferred $10 million of his state campaign funds to a new federal political action committee dubbed the “Campaign for Democracy,” which he said he created to boost Democrats and push back on Republican leaders who “ban books,” “kidnap migrants” and “stoke racism” before the 2024 election.

“What’s happening in those red states, it’s not who we are,” Newsom said in a new campaign video. “It’s un-American. It’s undemocratic, and all it takes to fight back is a willingness to stand toe to toe and say ‘enough.’”

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Newsom’s political advisors said he plans to travel with his wife and children to the Republican-controlled states of Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama beginning this weekend.

The move magnifies Newsom’s role in the American culture wars as a champion for the left at a time when many consider him to be a future presidential contender. Newsom, who denies having White House ambitions, has used his bully pulpit in California to stand up for abortion, immigrant and LGBTQ rights, which are under attack in many red states.

The new campaign also marks the latest effort in Newsom’s increasingly confrontational strategy of taking his messages beyond California.

Last summer, he ran ads in Florida, urging Floridians to “join us in California, where we still believe in freedom.” He sponsored billboards in seven states with the most restrictive abortion laws, telling women there that California “will defend your right to make decisions about your own health.”

California Republican Party Chair Jessica Millan Patterson said “the last thing red states need is a lecture from Gavin Newsom on how to govern.”

“The only things he can credibly teach them are how to have the nation’s highest gas prices, accrue a $30 billion deficit, close schools longer than any other state, welcome half of the nation’s unsheltered population, and motivate hundreds of thousands of residents to move away,” she said in a statement. “If only Newsom cared half as much about fixing problems in his own state as he does berating better-run red states.”

The federal political action committee gives the governor an opportunity to build an infrastructure to reach Democratic voters and donors on a national scale. Nathan Click, a spokesman for the governor, said the campaign has raised money from donors in 50 states.

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“He’s building something that is filling a massive, dangerous void in the Democratic Party,” said Mike Madrid, a Republican political consultant. “He’s trying to coalesce the Democratic Party in a united front, and there’s no better way to do that.”

Gov. Newsom blasted red-state efforts to ban books and limit education about race in public schools.

July 14, 2022

Madrid co-founded and has since left an organization called the Lincoln Project, which was established as a Republican force to counter former President Trump.

He said Democrats have not stepped up to match the “right-wing media echo chamber” on a national scale. Through social media and conservative media outlets, Republicans have been able to drive a narrative and mobilize voters across the country.

“While it has not helped them build a majority, it has certainly radicalized a massive swath of the American public,” Madrid said. “Democrats do not have that at all.”

Newsom’s campaign gives him an opportunity to “go right into the belly of the beast,” Madrid said, to talk about the issues he’s been outspoken about in California and to check the narrative the GOP has sold in red states.

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While Madrid and others don’t believe Newsom would challenge President Biden, the move helps the governor build his brand in the event that Biden does not seek reelection or for future presidential campaigns.

Newsom’s new campaign video contrasts clips of controversial GOP figures such as Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, with himself and his family during his well-choreographed “People’s March” at his 2023 inauguration.

David Axelrod, a Democratic strategist who worked on Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, said Newsom clearly “wants to take it to Republicans on abortion, guns, education and other issues, essentially taking the next step in his effort to paint himself as the bulwark fighting back against DeSantism.”

It’s a move that could play well with base Democrats across the country, Axelrod said.

“The question is how they view his motivations and whether it comes off as transparent self-boosterism or earnest advocacy,” he said.

The governor’s political strategists said he intends to use his campaign to help other Democrats up and down the ballot in 2024, focusing on deep-red states.

Click said Newsom plans to meet in Alabama with Bryan Stevenson, a civil rights attorney whose work trying to change the criminal justice system was portrayed in the 2019 film “Just Mercy.”

California’s governor clearly embraces his rise as a dominant, resonating voice for Democratic states nationwide

June 25, 2022

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Stevenson leads the Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, and has been an influential figure in Newsom’s work to oppose capital punishment.

Newsom described talking to Stevenson in 2019 when the newly inaugurated governor announced a moratorium on the dealth penalty in California.

“I was talking to Bryan Stevenson — which, everybody should spend time talking to Bryan Stevenson — and he made a point he’s made on many, many occasions,” Newsom said at the time.

“And it just… struck a chord. He said, ‘It’s not the question, the death penalty, of whether or not people deserve to die for their heinous acts. The question really is: Do we have the right to kill?’” Newsom said. “That’s a deep and existential question, and I don’t believe we do.”

In Arkansas, he’ll be meeting with high school students who have fought against Sanders’ education reforms, Click said. Newsom supported her Democratic opponent Chris Jones in his race against Sanders last year.

Newsom is also meeting in Mississippi with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who has been battling his own GOP-controlled state Legislature.

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“He’s putting his money where his mouth is,” Click said. “He’s going into the places where these attacks on freedom and rights aren’t an academic question and helping local leaders who are pushing back against them.”

Sacramento Bureau Chief Laurel Rosenhall contributed to this report.

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