California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom appeared Saturday at a rally in Huntington Beach in Orange County — a storied GOP stronghold which Ronald Reagan once described as “where good Republicans go to die.” | Chris Carlson/AP Photo
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — Crisscrossing longtime Reagan Revolution territory in his “Big Blue” campaign bus this weekend, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom – enjoying a comfortable cushion in the polls – has turned his focus to driving the resistance.
He’s stumping for a parade of candidates for the state legislature and U.S. House, arguing their victories will send a strong message in November that California will “repudiate Donald Trump and Trumpism.”
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“Orange is the new blue!’’ said Newsom to cheers as he looked out at a sea of Democratic faces, grassroots activists and a long line of hopefuls at a rally in Huntington Beach, one of the campaign stops Saturday in Orange County — a storied GOP stronghold which Reagan once described as “where good Republicans go to die.”
With just 50 days to the November midterm elections, and President Donald Trump’s approval ratings hovering at a dismal 32 percent in California, Newsom’s frenzied drive for other Democrats — and the robust turnout at his recent events — highlighted the level of grassroots outrage and dogged determination in the “state of resistance” to counter Trump’s actions on immigration, environmental regulation rollbacks, the GOP tax plan and Republicans’ continued efforts to unravel the Affordable Care Act.
“Folks in Orange County are counting on us to stand up for our values — Orange County values are American values,’’ Democratic candidate Katie Porter, a University of California at Irvine law professor, told an overflow crowd in Tustin, where she stood alongside Newsom at a campaign event Saturday. Porter, who has mounted a serious challenge to Rep. Mimi Walters in California’s 45th congressional district, told hundreds of Democrats that Walters was among the GOP House members in California who are “selling our democracy to the highest bidder.”
Porter was just one of a crowd of Democratic candidates who welcome Newsom’s “Big Blue” campaign bus tour this weekend to fire up anti-Trump sentiment just days before Californians begin casting mail-in ballots.
Newsom’s campaign swing came on the same day the president’s son, Eric Trump, was fundraising with Republicans in the same region. Though he did no public events, Trump posed for photos with 49th Congressional District GOP House candidate Diane Harkey, who tweeted about “a really packed house...lots of energy in the room to help us win in November!”
On Saturday alone in Huntington Beach, Newsom boosted Democratic businessman Harley Rouda, who’s aiming to unseat 15-term GOP incumbent Dana Rohrabacher in California’s 48th Congressional District. After rallying with Porter, Newsom fired up hundreds of enthusiastic Democrats to a rally in Encinitas, where environmentalist Mike Levin is seeking the seat of retiring Rep. Darrell Issa in what’s widely viewed as a toss-up race against Harkey.
At every stop, the California lieutenant governor stood on stage to introduce a parade of local candidates for city council, county supervisor and for state Assembly and Senate who basked in the attention.
The effort Saturday — with his wife, documentary filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom and their four children along for the ride — wrapped up five days in which the Democratic gubernatorial candidate has raced his way through 15 rallies aimed at assisting 24 state and local legislative candidates from Berkeley to San Diego.
“We’re taking nothing for granted,’’ Newsom said in an interview as his campaign bus wound its way through California’s Inland Empire and the congressional district home to Issa, the former House Oversight committee chair considered one of the nation’s most vulnerable Republicans until he announced his retirement last year.
Newsom says his drive to highlight other Democrats should not be taken as a sign that he’s overconfident in his own bid to succeed four-term governor Jerry Brown. “I hope it’s a sign of respect. ... It’s a way of building trust’’ with Democrats who may take legislative seats up and down the state, he said. Because for the next governor of California, as Newsom hopes to be, “there’s no success without their success.”
Telling grassroots activists at the rallies that they need to “run the 90-yard dash” to get out every single Democratic votes by November, Newsom cast his battle to be governor as one of in which a rising tide will lift all Democratic boats to push back a wave of “Trumpism.”
“We’re all bound together by a web of mutuality….we rise and fall together. That’s the principles and the values of the Democratic party and we recognize it,’’ he said in Tustin, standing next to Porter. “No one stands taller than when he or she bends down on one knee and helps lift other people up.”
Many of the campaign volunteers and activists who turned out for Newsom say his efforts are especially welcomed by Democrats at the local level — many of them newcomers to political activity.
“I personally sought out Gavin at every event and said, “You need to come to Orange County,’’ said Lorelei Lachman, a Huntington Beach realtor who made her first plunge into politics for the Women’s March in early 2017. Like many of the county’s Democratic activists in the wake of the election of Donald Trump, “felt we had to do something,’’ she said. “It was organic.”
Lachman was one of a crowd of activists who formed the “HBHuddle,” a nonpartisan grassroots group that now numbers 2,000 activists working to elect candidates in the November midterm. The group is now backing Democrats including 74th Assembly District candidate Cottie Petrie-Norris, 72nd Assembly District candidate Josh Lowenthal, Senate candidate Tom Umberg, and Duke Nguyen, who’s seeking to become the first Democratic sheriff of Orange County.
Newsom’s visit on Saturday, she said, served to highlight their bids — and fire up he volunteers.
“People are inspired, and optimistic about a ‘blue wave’ in California, but we recognize it will take efforts at every level,” said Brandon Perkins, an HB Huddle activist of Newsom’s efforts around the state. “We need to be really focused on the local races -- because that’s where we can really make a difference.”
Political strategists said Newsom’s effort to share the spotlight is both savvy — and strategic.
“It’s a brilliant strategy – and it is exactly the opposite of what Jerry Brown did in 2014, sitting on his butt and not lifting a finger for other Democrats,’’ says veteran Democratic strategist Garry South, who served as senior advisor to Gov. Gray Davis and has advised Newsom in the past. The result, he says ruefully, is that “we lost our two-thirds majorities in both houses.”
By contrast, South said Newsom understands that “you can’t just sit there on a lead to look like you’re taking things for granted. So you kill two birds with one stone: being out there, visible and aggressive but with the end goal of helping Democratic candidates for Congress and the legislature get elected.”
“It pays benefits for him when he’s in office,’’ he said, “because some of these legislative candidates will be in his debt because he went out of his way.”
In solidly blue California, where Democrats enjoy a 19-point voter registration advantage — and President Trump’s approval ratings are at a historic low — Newsom has long been viewed as the solid frontrunner in his run against millionaire businessman John Cox, who previously ran for U.S. Senate and president in his home state of Illinois.
The Democratic lieutenant governor also enjoys a considerable money advantage, and is expected to start using that funding for major TV buys soon. From the start of his campaign nearly three years ago, Newsom has raised five times that of Cox, or nearly $47 million. The Republican businessman, estimated to be worth $100 million, has put nearly $6 million of his own money into the race — making Cox himself his campaign’s largest donor.
The RealClearPolitics average polling showed Newsom ahead of Cox by 23.4 percentage points in July – though a recent Probolsky Poll, a Republican firm, had the race in the single digits.
Cox in recent weeks has aimed to portray Newsom as an elite “fortunate son” who has enjoyed the patronage of rich San Francisco families like the oil magnate Gettys. And in a campaign that has echoed some of the themes of Trump, who has endorsed him, he has charged that the state’s “forgotten” men and women have been left behind in “Gavin Newsom’s California,’’ where the poverty rate is the highest in the nation.
In Tustin, a handful of Cox’s supporters showed up to challenge Newsom’s bus in Tustin, but they were far outnumbered by Democratic activists who jammed Newsom’s rallies.
In California, “the gubernatorial contest is a coronation, not a competition,’’ said political analyst Kurt Bardella, a former Republican who once served as spokesman for Issa and for Breitbart News. “The California GOP is functionally irrelevant — allowing Governor-elect Newsom to focus on expanding the Democratic playing field and try and make gains in previously strong Republican strongholds likes Orange County and San Diego.”
Bardella says that “the fact that Newsom can so deliberately campaign in Issa’s district illustrates how toxic Trump has become to the GOP brand. Rather than resist Trump’s toxicity, Republicans like Issa, have embraced it further eroding the political relevance of the Republican Party in California,’’ he said. “It’s a trend Republicans at the national level should observe — because it foreshadows where the Trump train will ultimately lead the entire GOP.”
Newsom, on his campaign stops, used the opportunity to push back at Republicans, including Cox, Donald Trump and most recently Senator Ted Cruz who have suggested California is a failed state hobbled by homelessness and high taxes. Cruz, in pitching for votes, recently claimed Democrats are aiming to turn Texas into California, which he called the home of “dyed hair and silicon.’’
Newsom acknowledged California’s challenges in his Saturday rallies – telling Democrats that both endemic homelessness and the high poverty rate are both outcomes of skyrocketing housing costs which he said must be addressed by the next governor.
But he also garnered applause in Tustin when he launched on a theme that has driven his campaign — the notion that Democrats are best poised to continue to deliver the state’s booming economy and promise — what movies, literature and music have rhapsodize as “The California Dream.”
“There’s no other state that has a dream. You think about that. Is there a Florida dream? All these people talking about Texas; no Texas Dream. Or Louisiana Dream. Love New Hampshire, but there’s no New Hampshire Dream,’’ he told Democrats.
“There’s the American Dream and the California Dream. We’re dreamers and doers, entrepreneurs and innovators. We’re scientists, we’re researchers. More Nobel Laureates than anywhere else in the world….That’s California. The best days are not behind us,’’ he said. “The best days are in front of us.”