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California Gov. Gavin Newsom could be a 2024 contender. There's only one problem: Kamala Harris

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Vice President Kamala Harris and California Gov. Gavin Newsom appear at an anti-recall rally together in September 2021.
Vice President Kamala Harris and California Gov. Gavin Newsom appear at an anti-recall rally together in September 2021.SAUL LOEB / AFP
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom is well-positioned for a presidential run in 2024 or beyond.

  • Except, VP Kamala Harris is the Democrats' heir apparent, and they're from the same state.

  • For now, Newsom allies say there's "no way in hell" they'd run against each other in a primary.

California has given the US two presidents — Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan — and could give it a third in 2024. Vice President Kamala Harris, a former senator and state attorney general, is considered next in line for the Democratic nomination should her boss, President Joe Biden, choose not to run for a second term due to his age. But even if Biden runs again, the 2028 nomination would be Harris' to lose.

But there's another state official who could add to California's tally: Gavin Newsom. The question is, will he try?

Newsom, the telegenic governor of California who beat back a surprisingly boisterous recall campaign last year and is on solid ground to win re-election in 2022, would normally be a strong presidential contender. The state teems with Democratic voters and cash, and its delegate-rich primary often solidifies a frontrunner's status.

The governor has always shot down questions about whether he'd run for president.

When asked for comment, his campaign provided an interview Newsom gave to a San Francisco CBS affiliate where he vowed his presidential ambitions were, "None, never." In a separate interview, Newsom said running for the White House has "100 percent never been on my radar."

Then again, it's common for high-profile politicians to promise they aren't running, until one day, they do.

Vice President Kamala Harris and Governor Gavin Newsom talk at an Oakland, CA treatment plant in April 2021.
Harris and Newsom chat in front of the cameras during Harris' tour of an Oakland, CA treatment plant in 2021Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Newsom has made moves towards growing his national profile, recently garnering headlines for proposing a ban on assault weapons modeled after Texas' controversial abortion law, which effectively outlawed the procedure in the state by letting private citizens sue anyone who aids or abets an abortion that takes place after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Newsom has also sought to portray his state as a leader in handling the coronavirus pandemic, though the recall effort against him was born from Republicans' frustrations with the state's restrictions and lockdowns. At 54 years old, he has years of career potential ahead of him after the governorship.

But with Harris as the nominee to beat should Biden step aside, Newsom would have to contend with another superstar from his own state, splitting party loyalties and forcing California voters to choose between two familiar hometown names.

"Kamala Harris being vice president not only complicates Gavin Newsom's path, but the path of everybody if Biden doesn't run in 2024," said Bruce Cain, a professor of political science at Stanford University in California. "It's even a greater complication for Gavin given that his base and her base is California. I think it's fair to say that it has to be weighing on any calculation he might have about jumping into a 2024 race."

"They occupy not only the same home base and same kind of mentors," Cain said. "The reality is they are more similar than they are dissimilar. And I think that's a problem for him, particularly when she has more visibility."

Like Harris, Newsom is perceived nationally and at home as a liberal politician. He granted marriage licenses to gay couples as San Francisco's mayor in 2004, declared in 2020 that California would begin phasing out vehicles that run on fossil fuels, and this week announced he wanted to expand Medicaid eligibility to undocumented immigrants. That record would make him a prime target for national Republicans, who are eager to paint him as an out-of-touch coastal liberal if he seeks the presidency.

"Newsom's record is one no candidate should be proud of. Republicans can only hope he's the nominee in 2024." California Republican Party Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson told Insider in a statement. "He can point to record gas prices, surging crime, sky-high taxes, a homeless crisis, and the fact that no other governor has driven more people to leave their state than California."

Newsom and Harris are public allies and still maintain overlapping networks at home. They've campaigned alongside each other during various campaigns throughout the years. In September, Harris appeared with Newsom at a rally during his Stop the Republican Recall campaign. The two shared a warm embrace on stage.

Vice President Kamala Harris and Gov. Gavin Newsom embrace on stage during an anti-recall rally in September 2021.
Harris and Newsom hug it out during an anti-recall rally in September 2021.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Two Democrats who have worked for Newsom dismissed speculation that the two Northern California politicians would ever face off in a presidential primary.

"There's no way in hell those two are going to run against each other," said one California operative who has worked for both Newsom and Harris. "They are old friends who go back decades."

"If there's any sort of quote-unquote rivalry between them historically, I would characterize it as a sibling rivalry," the operative said. "The reality is they have been very big boosters of one another's careers; they have each supported the other."

Another strategist who worked for Newsom "can't imagine a scenario where they go up against each other."

"Newsom has been nothing but absolutely praising of the vice president," said the strategist, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the two politicians' relationship.

Further complicating matters are Harris and Newsom's intertwined political circles. Several of California's most prominent Democratic strategists, fundraisers, and communications experts have done time with both state power players. They also share donor networks in California.

So far, their careers have developed on parallel tracks. Newsom climbed from mayor of San Francisco to lieutenant governor, and finally governor all within a decade. At the same time, Harris completed a parallel ascent, from San Francisco district attorney to California attorney general, to US Senator, to making history as the first woman elected vice president of the United States.

Harris, whose latest approval ratings are at 35.8%, dismissed any speculation about her potential 2024 ambitions.

"I'm sorry, we are thinking about today," she said in an interview for NBC's "Today Show" that aired on January 13. Harris' office declined to comment.

Though both Harris and Newsom have said they are not thinking about 2024, it's a game that political spectators will continue to take bets on over the next two years in the lead-up to the presidential elections.

The Democratic operative told Insider Harris and Newsom's careers have played out as "a friendly game of one-upmanships."

Read the original article on Business Insider

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