California Gov. Gavin Newsom will travel to Texas on Saturday, venturing into the territory of one of his chief political foils while seeking to boost his own profile amid a noncompetitive reelection campaign back home.
Newsom is on his way to an easy victory for a second term as governor of the nation's most populous state, facing a little known and underfunded Republican challenger one year after defeating a recall attempt.
With little pressure at home, Newsom has been looking elsewhere to spend some of the $23 million he has in his campaign account. So far, he has bought TV ads in Florida urging people to move to California, newspaper ads in Texas decrying the state's lax gun laws, and billboards in seven conservative states — including Texas — urging women to come to California if they need an abortion.
Now, Newsom is scheduled to speak at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin, Texas, billed as a talk “on what the nation's most populous state can teach the other 49 — including [Texas].”
Newsom's actions come after he blamed his own political party for being too soft, urging them to stand up more firmly in light of recent conservative victories at the U.S. Supreme Court that overturned federal abortion protections and loosened restrictions on guns.
“Our donors are asking for more of that,” Newsom told reporters last week when asked if his attention on other states signaled he wasn't taking his reelection campaign seriously. “The people in the state of California are asking for more leadership in this space.”
Newsom spent most of this week in New York City, speaking at various climate change conferences while taking time to poke conservative governors he says are “doubling down on stupid.” He specifically called out Texas republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday during a brief interview at the Clinton Global Initiative, saying he and other Republican governors are “as dumb as they want to [be].”
Last week, Newsom asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tor transporting migrants to other states, something Newsom called “disgraceful.” DeSantis dismissed Newsom's request at a news conference, saying Newsom's “hair gel is interfering with his brain function.”
Newsom fired back on Twitter, challenging DeSantis to a debate, declaring: “I'll bring my hair gel. You bring your hairspray."
Nationally, Democratic President Joe Biden has been less vocal in these political battles, creating an opening for someone like Newsom to step in and take on the Republican Party's most vocal leaders, said Eric Schickler, co-director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California-Berkeley.
“[Biden] is less out there in a lot of ways than many presidents have been,” Schickler said. “It creates a kind of vacuum where ambitious Democrats who want to be in the national conversation have that kind of space to maybe say things they want Biden to say that he doesn't feel is either appropriate as president to say or just not his style to do.”
Newsom's aggressiveness could end up helping Abbott, who is locked in a more competitive race with former Congressman Beto O'Rourke. Kenneth Grasso, a political science professor at Texas State University, said there has been concern among some in the Republican Party that Abbott is “not conservative enough.”
Newsom's attacks against Abbott “only helps him with those people,” Grasso said.
“If you stress that they're right-wingers, you call them extremists, using that kind of language, all you are going to do is enhance their popularity in their own base,” he said.
Despite that risk, Texas Democrats seem to be welcoming Newsom's attention.
“I like this guy,” Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa said of Newsom. “I like the way he's showing the contrast between what y'all do in California and what the narrow-minded, extremist positions that occur here in the state of Texas.”
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