When California Gov. Gavin Newsom launched a bold, in-your-face ad in Florida this week, Democrats thirsty for an aggressive voice in their party began to take notice.
“Democrats have been wanting someone who is willing to proactively throw a punch or two at Republicans and we haven’t seen much of that from the White House or other Democratic leaders lately,” said one top donor in the party. “It was somewhat refreshing.”
The spot, which aired on Fox News programming across Florida on Monday, went after former President Donald Trump and Fla. Gov. Ron Desantis and the conservative culture of the Sunshine State.
The ad was aimed at hitting Republicans, but it got the attention of Democrats who are worried about who could take on Trump or DeSantis — two likely prospects for the Republican nomination — in 2024 if President Biden chooses not to seek a second term.
It was particularly resonant in taking on DeSantis in his home state of Florida, which has been tilting toward the GOP but was won twice by former President Barack Obama.
“It’s Independence Day, so let’s talk about what’s going on it America,” Newsom says in the ad. “Freedom, it’s under attack in your state. Republican leaders, they’re banning books, making it harder to vote, restricting speech in classrooms, even criminalizing women and doctors.
“I urge all of you living in Florida to join the fight, or join us in California, where we still believe in freedom — freedom of speech, freedom to choose, freedom from hate and the freedom to love,” he concludes.
Newsom’s punch might have been particularly welcome to Democrats given the rough year they are having.
The party is facing the prospect of losing control of the House and possibly the Senate amid sky-high inflation and plummeting approval ratings for Biden.
Just last month, a conservative-majority Supreme Court with three justices nominated by Trump overturned the Roe v. Wade decision, effectively outlawing abortion in a number of states.
That thunderbolt happened amid a stretch of other decisions touching on gun rights, religious freedom and climate change that were all bad from the point of view of the left.
Democrats have also been incensed by the lack of a message or strategy coming from the White House, particularly on the abortion issue.
Newsom hasn’t been at the top of 2024 lists should Biden not run for a second term, but that started to shift with the ad.
Nathan Click, Newsom’s political spokesman, said in an email that the governor “believes now is not the time for Democrats to roll over and accept defeat.
“Now is the time for Democrats to fight,” Click said. “It’s about taking the fight to the GOP and calling them out for taking away Americans’ freedoms.”
Newsom, who is up for reelection in California this year, started fundraising off the ad earlier this week.
He also got Democrats talking about how to be effective in their messaging when targeting Republicans.
“I like it,” Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey said when asked by CNN’s Brianna Keilar what he thought of Newsom’s ad.
“I think we need to stand up and be counted and make sure we remind folks around the country, if you value values come to states like New Jersey and I suspect that’s exactly what Gov. Newsom has in mind in terms of California’s values,” Murphy said.
Political observers point out that Newsom and DeSantis have been targeting one another since the start of the pandemic when the Florida governor criticized California’s policies. But Newsom cranked it up several notches with the ad.
Chris Lehane, a longtime Democratic strategist who is based in California and has known Newsom for years, credited the governor for the move.
“It’s an opening for the California brand and his own brand too,” Lehane said. “It’s just smart politics.”
“Obviously he’s a really smart guy,” he added. “It’s not lost on him that people on the Democratic side are looking for leaders and it’s something Democrats will take note of.”
There are certainly doubts about Newsom, who was the subject of a recall effort in the state less than a year ago.
The Los Angeles Times ran a column Thursday with the headline, “Ignore the Noise. Here’s why Gavin Newsom is not running for president in 2024.”
In the piece, veteran political journalist Mark Z. Barabak noted that Newsom is simply “getting people to notice him” maybe not for 2024 but further down the road.
Barabak said he wouldn’t run against Biden if he chose to run and has “indicated to those around him he has no intention of challenging [Vice President] Harris if she were to run in 2024, which is probably wise.”
“Taking the nomination away from a sitting vice president would also pose a steep challenge.”
Cooper Teboe, a Democratic strategist based in California, said that Newsom’s move does tap into a party that is craving a certain brashness and leaders in the party who aren’t afraid to get in the faces of Republicans.
“Democrats are looking for a fighter whose anger matches the injustices that we’re currently seeing out of Washington,” Teboe said.
But more importantly, he said voters are also looking for someone to take on more than just the culture wars in the country, especially at a time when many Americans are feeling an economic strain.
“Voters are struggling. They’re hearing about layoffs, and they don’t know how they’re going to put food on the table or buy shoes for back to school,” he said. “They need an economic message.”
Other Democrats say Newsom’s ad shoed that the party should enlist a variety of people in their party — and not just Biden— to highlight their messaging across various platforms.
Democratic strategist Rodell Mollineau said Newsom, “can do and say things that quite frankly Biden can’t.”
“We should embrace that we have multiple talented spokespeople in the party who I would hope could work together to craft a narrative that is going to take hold in this country and not only bring Democrats together but show the delineation between Democrats and Republicans,” Mollineau said. “This does not need to come from the White House or one man. That’s why I think what Gov. Newsom is doing should be welcomed. It shouldn’t be seen as an either-or proposition.”
Mollineau said he wouldn’t speculate on what it meant for Newsom’s political prospects.
“As far as I know, President Biden will be running for reelection, and I would expect Gov. Newsom to be one of his big supporters,” he said.