Newsom starts tour to boost red-state Democrats, pledges to take on 'authoritarian leaders'
California Gov. Gavin Newsom dropped $10 million on a new political action committee Thursday, pledging to boost Democrats in the reddest of red states ahead of the 2024 election and what could be a future run for president.
Newsom launched the Campaign for Democracy using money left over from his 2022 campaign for governor, where he easily won reelection against a little-known Republican opponent. In a video announcing the committee, Newsom pledged to take on "authoritarian leaders" he says are "directly attacking our freedoms," including Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
"What's happening in those red states?" Newsom asked. "That's not who we are. It's un-American. It's un-democratic."
Newsom blamed those governors for banning books and targeting transgender children. Republicans, meanwhile, have criticized Newsom for using taxpayer money to pay for women in other states to come to California for abortions and to cover the health care expenses of people living in the country without legal permission.
"There's a reason why Gavin Newsom never focuses on the problems he's caused in his own state," Sanders spokesperson Alexa Henning said. "California residents are experiencing sky high rent but Governor Sanders is living rent free in his head."
Newsom and his family will visit Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi early next week, meeting with Democratic activists who are pushing for things like expanding Medicaid and resisting Sanders' education proposals. But first, he'll appear at a fundraiser Saturday in Florida for the Democratic Governors Association, spokesperson Nathan Click said.
A donation blitz to candidates in other states is a typical pathway to a presidential campaign for ambitious politicians. Most of the time, money is targeted at swing states or places with early presidential primaries where donations can pay dividends later.
Newsom, however, is taking on states with little strategic political value for Democrats, part of his ongoing effort to reshape the Democratic Party's message.
"He's been saying we can't go just to the 12 states that are on the line; we've got to go to the states where we lose and help the people who are on the front lines with these fights," Click said.
Other Democrats have tried to use their star power to help candidates around the country — some in heavily Republican areas.
On the heels of his 2020 Senate run against South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham — which busted fundraising records but resulted in a loss to the incumbent — Jaime Harrison launched Dirt Road PAC, utilizing his newly minted status as a fundraising powerhouse to try to provide a sustained boost to other Democrats that he hopes can help flip more areas from red to blue.
Dirt Road has continued to operate as Harrison has taken over as Democratic National Committee chair, raising about $200,000 before the end of last year, according to federal filings.
Such efforts have not always been successful. In 2013, Jeremy Bird, who was the national field director for then-President Barack Obama's reelection campaign the previous year, helped organize Battleground Texas, which vowed to make long-term financial and organizing commitments to Democratic causes in the nation's largest Republican state.
The group invested heavily in 2014 Democratic governor candidate Wendy Davis, who lost big to Republican Abbott. Nearly 10 years later, Texas Democrats still haven't won a statewide office since 1994, the nation's longest losing streak.
Individual elected officials have gotten into the act, too, like Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Weeks after dropping out of the 2020 presidential race, she announced a political group called Warren Democrats that saw her endorse, campaign with and provide financial and logistical support for progressive congressional candidates that cycle and last year. The records of candidates backed by Warren were mixed, and she is now running for reelection next year to the Senate.
Last year, amid some unease among Democrats about President Joe Biden's prospects for reelection, Newsom's name was floated as a potential replacement for 2024. Newsom quickly shut those rumors down, saying he had no desire to run for president. However, he has continued to build his profile as a national leader, spending his campaign money for governor last year on ads in Republican-led states, including Florida and Texas.
"He's clearly building his national profile and presence," said Eric Schickler, a political science professor at the University of California, Berkeley. "It's a way that taps into something that a lot of Democrats have been concerned about, which is that there is not much of a party presence in a lot of the red states."
Newsom's second term as governor will end in 2026. He has said he won't challenge Biden for the presidency. Were he to run in 2028, he'd potentially be going up against Vice President Kamala Harris, a fellow Californian.
Associated Press reporters Will Weissert in Washington and Meg Kinnard in Columbia, S.C., contributed.
for more features.