California Gov. Gavin Newsom is far from the Golden State this weekend, as he travels from the Mideast to the Far East on a high-stakes overseas trip that could fuel future presidential speculation.
The two-term California governor with a rising national profile made a quick stop in Israel on Friday, amid the Jewish State’s war with Hamas.
Then it was on to China, where Newsom aims to discuss climate change with the world’s most populous nation.
But it’s a delicate dance for the governor, who as a top surrogate on behalf of President Biden’s 2024 re-election campaign, needs to make sure he doesn’t disrupt fragile relations between the administration in Washington and the communist regime in Beijing.
And the trip, only his second international tour in his official capacity as California governor, carries plenty of risks and rewards for Newsom, who’s viewed by many pundits as a likely future presidential contender.
“This trip builds up his credentials,” seasoned Democratic communicator and strategist Chris Moyer noted, a veteran of multiple presidential campaigns, noted. “It could pay dividends for him later.”
While in Israel, the governor huddled with Californians and others who survived the horrific assault by Hamas militants nearly two weeks ago, which was the deadliest attack on Israel in half a century.
“Today, I met with a Californian who was shot during a missile and grenade attack. She covered herself among dead people to survive. After hours of endless terror, she was rescued and transported to a hospital,” Newsom wrote in a social media posting, as he described his visit to a hospital in Tel Aviv.
Newsom also described meeting a mother whose son, a Californian, is being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza. He also spotlighted that he “hugged a girl — another Californian, born in Los Angeles — who was shot in the leg by Hamas and left for dead, in truly horrific conditions.”
“What the Israeli people have experienced is nothing short of barbaric terrorism. But what I heard and saw today was so much more than that. It was a profound sense of resilience,” Newsom said.
The governor’s office noted in a released that “the State of California is working to ship medical supplies to support humanitarian relief efforts in Israel and Gaza.”
California is home to the largest population of Arab Americans in the United States, according to the Arab American Institute. It also has the second-largest populations of Jews in the U.S., according to the American Jewish Population Project at Brandeis University.
Newsom wasn’t the only American governor to visit Israel. Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York stopped in the Jewish State earlier in the week.
In China, Newsom will target areas where California and China can team up to reduce global warming emissions — including a focus on electric vehicles, high-speed rail, and offshore wind energy.
While Newsom’s immediate predecessors in Sacramento — former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown — both negotiated with China on climate and trade, relations have dramatically worsened between the two superpowers. That raises the stakes for Newsom’s trip and could invite plenty of criticism from Republicans.
But the trip also brings business benefits.
Mike Trujillo, a veteran California based Democratic strategist, noted that “California, if it were its own country, would be the fifth-largest economy in the world.” Governors of the Golden State view it their duty to ensure California remains an economic powerhouse. “That means making sure other countries, importers, exporters, everything we do in this state, has a good relationship with our supply line.”
“Whether or not the trip burnishes his credentials for a future presidential race really doesn’t matter. I just think it’s good government by the governor of California,” Trujillo said.
Even though he repeatedly shoots it down, speculation still runs rampant that Newsom’s secretly mulling a White House run in 2024 should something happen to Biden, thanks in part to the governor’s six trips this year to red states and an upcoming primetime debate in Georgia with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Fox News’ “Hannity.” He also has a burgeoning political operation that’s distributing millions to Democratic causes and candidates.
Newsom’s moves have positioned him as a leading voice in the Democratic Party at a time of rising concerns among Democrats over the 80-year-old president’s political durability, his negative approval ratings. Recent polls indicate former President Donald Trump — the commanding front-runner right now for the GOP nomination — is either ahead or tied with Biden in 2024 general election matchups.
But Newsom has repeatedly emphasized his support for Biden’s re-election and has stressed it is time Democrats rally around the president.
“President Biden is going to run, and [I’m] looking forward to getting him re-elected. I think there’s been so much wallowing in the last few months, and hand-wringing in this respect. But we’re gearing up for the campaign,” Newsom said last month in an NBC News interview.
Days later, the governor said that “the answer is no” when asked during a CNN interview if he was considering a 2024 White House run. “No ambiguity.”
“Let’s get on the train. This train has left the proverbial station,” he added.
The telegenic 55-year-old Newsom has also spotlighted his support for Vice President Kamala Harris, a fellow Californian whose approval ratings are deeper underwater than Biden’s numbers.
Newsom’s reassuring support for Biden has appeared to put the president’s re-election campaign at ease.
“He’s been a tremendous asset to the campaign, and we’re really grateful to have him as part of our national advisory board,” Biden campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodríguez told reporters on the eve of the second Republican presidential nomination debate, where Newsom served as the top surrogate for the Biden campaign in the post-debate spin room.
While Newsom’s political moves may set him up for a potential White House run in 2028, Republicans aren’t ready to drop speculation the term-limited governor is still angling for a possible 2024 bid.
“He’s trying to tell the world that he’s the number one guy and that he’s going to be running for this seat for whatever reasons Joe Biden ends up not being their nominee,” California GOP chair Jessica Milan Patterson argued in a Fox News interview last month.
Associated Press material was used in this report