Gavin Newsom stakes political ascension on abortion, guns and health care

SACRAMENTO — Gavin Newsom is fed up with Republicans attacking abortion rights and blocking gun laws — and with his own Democratic Party for failing to boldly and boldly stand up to the conservative right and push a progressive agenda.

And as California’s first-term governor positions himself as the Democratic Party’s national pit bull, no other issue has defined his political rise as much as healthcare.

“Where the hell is my party?” Newsom was furious in May when it became clear the US Supreme Court was on the verge of falling Roe v. calf. “Why don’t we stand up harder?” He later ran a TV ad accusing Florida’s Republican leaders: “Criminalization of women and doctors.”

Over the past year, Newsom has launched multiple attacks on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential presidential candidate, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — both Republicans — for their positions on guns and abortion. He’s made it onto national television and social media to bill California as an abortion-protective state that welcomes — and is — women from across the country Boasting an electoral initiative in November that would enshrine the right to abortion in the national constitution. And he portrays gun violence as a public health crisis and says Democrats need to be more aggressive in challenging Republicans to enact comprehensive gun safety legislation.

“It’s time to defend them — we’re tired of defending ourselves,” Newsom said in late July as he signed legislation allowing Californians to sue gun manufacturers for negligence, a law modeled on Texas Law allowing individuals to sue abortion providers or those who help women seek an abortion.

Newsom, a former mayor of San Francisco, is also taking to the airwaves to promote his healthcare achievements. He crows around expand healthcare Insurance coverage for millions of previously uninsured Californians — a holy grail for Democrats committed to universal health coverage — and California’s attempt to lower drug prices by entering the generic drug market. He also argues that under his oversight, California has led the nation in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, citing its decision to impose the first statewide house arrest ordinance in the country in March 2020.

Political strategists and national health experts say health care is a winning theme for the Democratic Party as it prepares for a midterm campaign in November — and as Democrats seek a strategy to retain the White House in 2024. And they say Newsom could be a strong contender.

“You can’t look at Gavin Newsom and say he’s not a very attractive option,” said Chris Jennings, a Washington, DC-based public health policy veteran who worked under Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. “He seems to relish debates at a time when people are looking for a fighter and he’s well positioned having achieved some progressive success in healthcare. But it has not been at the expense of deterring the moderates.”

Newsom, who easily defeated a Republican-led recall attempt last year and is expected to run for re-election in November in deep blue California, denies he is laying the groundwork for a presidential nomination and says he unequivocally supports President Joe Biden.

But while he’s taking to the airwaves and social media to brag about his good health care, he appears to be exploring a national campaign and turning his California record. For example, although he says California offers “universal access to health insurance,” many Californians remain uninsured, cannot afford health insurance, or are unable to receive treatment even if they have health insurance.

“His accomplishments are often embellished, and success stories are often made before the hard work is done,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist in California. “And there are a lot of things that people like Ron DeSantis can point to in California that have completely failed, like the homelessness crisis.”

Polls show support for Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, also a Californian, is waning, and a recent CNN national poll found that 75% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters want someone other than Biden to run in 2024. A late June poll of US adults suggested that Newsom could win a general election matchup against DeSantis or former President Donald Trump.

“I think we as Democrats oppose the right wing, but Gavin Newsom has a certain edge to his criticism and I like that. I think it’s resolute, I think it’s strong, I think it’s fearless,” said former US Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who left office in 2017 but is working to get Democrats into national office Select.

“Healthcare is important to him, and he finds a way to get things done,” she said. “When the time is right, I would like to support him.”

Newsom campaign spokesman Nathan Click said Newsom believes Biden should run and will not challenge him, but argues he can raise important Democratic issues such as abortion rights.

“He is leading by example and taking the fight to the Republicans, embracing them as they take away people’s rights and freedoms,” Click told KHN. “He recognizes that he has agency on this issue and how the Democratic Party is being rebuilt.”

A spokesman for Abbott slammed Newsom for ignoring issues back home like the homelessness epidemic and the high cost of living. The DeSantis campaign did not respond to requests for comment, but has launched similar attacks against Newsom.

“Governor Newsom should focus on all jobs and businesses leaving California and coming to Texas,” Abbott’s publicist Renae Eze said.

Newsom championed single-payer health care during his first run for governor and vowed to “lead efforts” to create a taxpayer-funded system that puts the government in charge of delivering health care.

But in office he has backed away from that promise, instead pushing for a universal health coverage message that keeps the current system intact but expands coverage.

“California is the FIRST and ONLY state in the nation to offer universal access to health care,” Newsom said in back-to-back campaign emails in late July. “We have the strictest gun safety laws in the country. We make our own insulin in California.”

But California doesn’t make its own insulin yet. And although Newsom said California offers universal access to health care, health insurance remains too expensive for many low- and middle-income residents, and Medi-Cal — California’s Medicaid program — is fraught with problems that put coverage out of reach for many.

“We, as Democrats, must be honest enough to recognize that coverage does not automatically mean adequate or timely care,” said Democratic strategist Garry South, a longtime Newsom ally. “The fact is, under Medi-Cal, they often do not receive good care that is timely and appropriate to meet their healthcare needs.”

Since becoming governor in 2019, Newsom has expanded Medi-Cal to include hundreds of thousands of people illegally residing in the state. That year, he approved an additional expansion to open the program to all income-eligible Californians through 2024, regardless of immigration status.

Newsom also allocates billions to provide community services and behavioral health care to the most vulnerable and costly Medi-Cal patients, including the homeless and people with substance addictions. And after a Republican-controlled Congress zeroed the Affordable Care Act’s penalty for uninsured individuals in 2017, Newsom approved compulsory insurance for Californians and state subsidies to help lower- and middle-class residents buy coverage.

Despite these big expansions, an estimated 2.3 million Californians under age 65 will remain uninsured, according to an April analysis by University of California researchers.

Richard Figueroa, a longtime health policy expert who now serves as Newsom’s assistant cabinet secretary, argues the government has taken leading steps nationwide to expand health coverage, but conceded that California will never be able to expand coverage to everyone .

“Given the patchwork system we have, we will always have some uninsured. It doesn’t require anyone to sign up, although it’s affordable and even free,” Figueroa told KHN. “We’re filling a big gap in the access part of the puzzle.”

Newsom’s extension of health care to all immigrants, regardless of status, could also expose him to criticism should he run for national office.

“Whether saying ‘I was able to do these things in liberal California’ carries over to the rest of the country is going to be a question,” Jennings said. “When it comes to subsidizing immigrants, most national politicians have come to the conclusion that you cannot take that position and win nationally.”

Celinda Lake, a political strategist who has helped direct polling for Biden’s 2020 campaign and conducts polls for the Democratic National Committee, said Newsom can stave off political attacks if he can argue that he’s providing better care while saving taxpayers’ money .

“Democrats are on fire and voters don’t understand why more can’t be done in Washington,” Lake said. “Whoever is in the Democratic Primary, you have to be for universal health care. And if Governor Newsom runs in 2024 or 2028, he can point to what he did in California to show it can work.”

This story was produced by KHN (Kaiser Health News), a national newsroom that reports extensively on health issues and is one of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KHN is the publisher of California Healthline, an editorially independent service California Health Care Foundation.

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