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This is where the rebound begins | ticker VIEWS




President Joe Biden will be in California on Monday, campaigning to ensure that Gavin Newsom, the state’s governor, will not be ousted from office by the voters in an orgy of political nihilism

Guess what:  Newsom is going to win – and Biden will get a jolt to bring his political fights in Washington on his domestic agenda to a successful conclusion.

US President Joe Biden on jobs
US President Joe Biden on jobs

A century ago, California’s progressive reformers, seized with the urgency of taking on corporate barons who were exploiting their dominance over commerce and development, enacted a major legislative reform for its frontier democracy

California’s voters could recall their elected officials before an election was due.  This would hold them ever-accountable to their responsibilities of office.

However, after a wave of initial progressive power, with several officials ousted, its use lapsed.  It took until 2003 for Democratic Gov Gray Davis to be replaced by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger in a tumultuous recall fight.

Newsom was mayor of San Francisco and lieutenant governor for 15 years. Popular and able, he easily won the governorship in 2018 — a very strong Democratic year, with California, now a majority-minority state in racial composition, one of the bluest states in the union. And one of the most consequential, with the fifth largest economy in the world – much larger than Australia’s.

But Newsom has been tested by Covid, which has ravaged the state, kept schools and offices closed, and driven forces that further separated the wealthiest from the rest

The wildfires are also now relentless and still out of control, driving thousands from their homes and blackening the environment.   With poor health and an uneven economy, California has lost population for the first time ever.  

In a testy time, with leaders not able to hold a commanding political position, the grassroots can explode like the forests, seeking to punish those in office and find new leaders

Newsom is blessed with a field of over 40 Republicans who are essentially unknown mediocrities (radio host Larry Elder has some prominence) or, in the case of the inevitable celebrity like Caitlin Jenner, not credible.

While it really does take someone to beat someone, Newsom will win because in the face of the Biblical afflictions across California, he has been steady on the science and the public health measures necessary to bring the pandemic under control – vaccine mandates, and sensible rules on masks and commerce – and because he is leading the fight on the fires and tying their prevalence to the climate crisis.  

Newsom is capitalizing politically on the climate syllogism we felt here in the bushfire conflagration of 2019

“Climate change equals drought, equals bushfires, equals destruction, equals smoke:  Act!”  The Republicans are out of step on climate with voters in California no less than conservatives here in Australia.

There is a parallel mood on the pandemic:  enough already with the unvaccinated; we want to return to normal life.  Or as President Biden put it last week, “We have been patient but our patience is wearing thin and your refusal has cost all of us. The unvaccinated minority can cause a lot of damage and they are.”

Newsome also stands – together with California’s own Kamala Harris, now Vice President, who campaigned with him last week – as a proud Democrat faithful to all the party’s ideals.

Newsom has therefore put together the triple play to win the game:  climate, pandemic, and an uprising of the middle to defeat the extremist populism embodied by Trump – a corrosive populism that suppresses voting rights and women’s rights, especially for abortion.

Biden is campaigning in California to capitalise on Newsom’s impending victory. 

Everywhere Biden has travelled over the past two weeks, from Louisiana to New Jersey and New York, he has tied the catastrophic floods to climate change.  He will do the same with the fires in California.  And he ties this new climate reality to the urgent need for his massive infrastructure rebuild for America to pass Congress.  

Biden will use Newsom’s leadership on the pandemic to buttress his own aggressive measures last week to get the rest of the country vaccinated and bring the virus under control

Biden will champion women’s rights in California so that the state will never experience what is occurring to women in Texas, which has outlawed abortion after the first 6 weeks of pregnancy.

And Biden will use California to marshal all these forces to keep Democrats united and together on the offensive to pass his legislative program in the coming weeks.

With victory in California, Biden expects two other Democrats to use this same playbook to win their races for governor in Virginia and New Jersey in November.

Biden is hurting after Afghanistan, and with the pandemic not yet under control as he promised – and that is taking the edge off the economic recovery, adding to his loss of some political capital as is evident in the polls.

This is why Biden is in California, because this is where his rebound begins.

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