Thomas Elias: Could Newsom be the unifier national Democrats need?
Just over six months from today, we will know the outcome of California’s primary election, the earliest big-state primary of the election season and possibly the most important of them all.
So far in this election season, one big thing has become clear: While President Trump has no serious rival in his Republican reelection bid, no Democratic candidate has emerged as likely to knock him off nationally.
In fact, if the primary were held today, Trump would score more votes in California than anyone else, even as the total Democratic count would swamp his.
Every significant public poll also now indicates there is no sign of a favorite son or daughter phenomenon here in the nation’s most populous state.
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Those polls do show only a few candidates in the current vast Democratic field would actually win national nominating convention delegates here if the vote were held today.
The California standings look pretty much like the national numbers, with former Vice President Joseph Biden leading with about 23 percent support among likely Democratic voters, to 17 percent for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 15 percent for Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders and California’s own Kamala Harris at about 13 percent. In fifth place at just under 10 percent is South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, with a severe dropoff after that to the four percent drawn by former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke. No one else gets enough support statewide to win delegates.
The meaning of all this should be clear to anyone who has followed American elections for the last half century, since primaries became the prime method for choosing convention delegates: Democrats urgently need a stronger candidate.
To beat Trump, that candidate would have to unify the party’s ultra-left wing, very vocal during the early presidential debates, and its moderates, the base of Biden’s continued support despite his lame debate showings. Such a candidate would require strong support from women voters and Latinos, as well as white males. Strong liberal stances would be a must; so would a record of standing up to Trump.
There is a candidate right here who checks all those boxes: Gov. Gavin Newsom. He’s been far from perfect in his eight months at the state’s helm, but still meets all the apparent prerequisites.
Start with Newsom’s strong showing in last fall’s election, the first time he topped a statewide ballot. That would have made him a presidential prospect immediately, except for two factors: He has never opposed the ambitions of Harris, his friend, fellow protégé of former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and former colleague in city government, a woman with whom he even shares campaign consultants. Neither Newsom nor his campaign gurus say Word One about joining the race as a late entrant, but you can be sure they salivate while watching Democratic debates.
Of course, Newsom promised last fall he would not run for president this year. He also has never stood in Harris’ way when she pursues her ambitions. But the longer this campaign goes, the more obvious it becomes that Harris won’t be the Democratic flag-bearer.
Why? Start with the fact she’s never been a tremendous favorite in her home state (her first race for statewide office wasn’t decided until after Thanksgiving, an underwhelming performance in heavily Democratic California).
Harris has no major constituency all her own within her party. Sure, she hypes Medicare for all, but Sanders and Warren were there long before she entered the Senate. Sure, she’s tough on crime, but so is Biden, to the point where it might turn off some minority voters.
Newsom, meanwhile, gave away the store to utility companies via this summer’s bailout legislation, but he also has brought early childhood education into the limelight, aided gays, supported rent controls and housing construction and pleased labor unions at every turn. He denied parole to several serious killers, fights Trump almost daily and is business-friendly to a fault. These are necessities for a unifying Democratic candidate.
So if Democrats really want to win next fall (and there can be doubts about that), they have a potential unifier right in front of them.
Email Thomas Elias at email@example.com. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit http://www.californiafocus.net.
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