SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gavin Newsom is upset with Republicans for attacking abortion rights and blocking gun regulations — and with his own Democratic Party for failing to boldly and brazenly take on the conservative right and advance a progressive agenda.
And as California’s first-term governor positions himself as the pit bull of the national Democratic Party, no other issue is defining his political rise as much as health care.
“Where’s my team?” Newsom was outraged in May as it became clear that the US Supreme Court was poised to overturn Roe v. Wade. “Why don’t we stand firmer?” He later ran a television ad accusing Florida Republican leaders.Criminalization of women and doctors“
Over the past year, Newsom has made a series of attacks on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential presidential candidate, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — both Republicans — for their stances on guns and abortion. She has taken to national TV and social media to tout California as an abortion sanctuary state that welcomes women from across the country — and Boasting initiatives on the November ballot That would enshrine the right to abortion in state constitutions. And he’s framing gun violence as a public health crisis, saying Democrats need to more aggressively challenge Republicans to enact sweeping gun protection legislation.
— Gavin Newsom (@Gavin Newsom) July 22, 2022
“It’s time to put them on the defensive — we’re sick and tired of being on the defensive,” Newsom said in late July as he signed a law allowing Californians to sue gun manufacturers for negligence, a law modeled after Texas. The law allows private citizens to sue abortion providers or those who help women obtain abortions.
Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco, is hitting the airwaves for his health care gains. She is almost crying Health care expansion Coverage of millions of previously uninsured Californians — a sacred issue for Democrats agitating for universal health care — and California’s efforts to lower drug prices by entering the generic drug market. He also argues that, in his view, California has led the nation in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, pointing to its decision in March 2020 to impose the first statewide stay-at-home order in the country.
Political strategists and national health care experts say health care is a winning issue for the Democratic Party as it prepares to fight a midterm election in November — and Democrats look for 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 wouldn’t be a very attractive option,” said Chris Jennings, a Washington, D.C.-based health policy veteran who served under Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. “He’s enjoying controversy at a time when people are looking for a fighter, and he’s well-positioned, having won some progressive health care. But this was not at the cost of intimidating the moderates.”
Newsom, who easily defeated a Republican-driven recall effort last year and is expected to coast to re-election in deep-blue California in November, has denied he is laying the groundwork for the presidency and said he unequivocally supports President Joe Biden.
But when he took to the airwaves and social media to brag about his health care, he appeared to be exploring a national campaign and putting a spin on his California record. For example, although he says California offers “universal access to health care coverage,” many Californians remain uninsured, cannot afford coverage, or cannot seek treatment even if they have health insurance.
“His accomplishments are often embellished, and proclamations of success are often made before the hard work is done,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist in California. “And people like Ron DeSantis have plenty of things to point out about California that are completely failing, like the homelessness crisis.”
Polling shows Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, also a Californian, and a recent national CNN poll found that 75% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters want someone other than Biden to run in 2024. A survey of US adults in late June suggested that Newsom could win a general election matchup against DeSantis or former President Donald Trump.
“I think we’ve been right-wing as Democrats, but Gavin Newsom has a certain edge to his criticism, and I like that. I think it’s boisterous, I think it’s strong, I think it’s fearless,” said former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who retired from office in 2017 but is working to elect Democrats to national office.
“Health care is important to him, and he finds a way to get things done,” she said. “When the time is right, I will be proud to support him.”
Newsom campaign spokesman Nathan Click said Newsom believes Biden should run and won’t challenge him, but he argues he can promote key Democratic issues like abortion rights.
“He’s leading by example and taking Republicans to the fight, making it their own how they’re taking away people’s rights and freedoms,” Click told KHN. “He understands that he has agency on this question and how the Democratic Party is going to be rebuilt.”
An Abbott spokesman criticized Newsom for ignoring issues on his home turf, such as the homelessness epidemic and the high cost of living. The DeSantis campaign did not respond to requests for comment but has made similar attacks against Newsom.
Abbott press secretary Rene Eze said, “Governor Newsom should focus on all the jobs and businesses that are leaving California and coming to Texas.
DeSantis hits back against Newsom attack: ‘People vote with their feet’ https://t.co/8RuT1aGaFD
— Fox News (@FoxNews) March 30, 2022
Newsom campaigned on single-payer health care during his first run for governor, pledging to “lead the effort” to create a taxpayer-funded system that puts the government in charge of providing care.
But in office, he has distanced himself from that pledge, pushing instead a message of universal health care that keeps the current system intact but expands coverage.
“California is the first and only state in the country to offer universal access to health care coverage,” Newsom said in back-to-back campaign emails in late July. “We have the strongest gun protection laws in the country. We’re making our own insulin in California.”
but California does not yet manufacture its own insulin. And although Newsom said California offers universal access to health care, coverage is too expensive for many low- and moderate-income residents, and Medi-Cal — California’s Medicaid program — is riddled with problems that put many out of reach.
“As Democrats we have to be honest enough to admit that coverage does not automatically mean adequate or timely care,” said Democratic strategist Gary South, a longtime Newsom aide. “The reality is that under Medi-Cal they often don’t get good care that is timely and appropriate to meet their health care needs.”
Since he became governor in 2019, Newsom has expanded Medi-Cal to hundreds of thousands of people living in the state without legislative authorization. This year, he authorized an additional expansion to open the program to all Californians who are income-eligible, regardless of immigration status, through 2024.
Newsom is allocating billions to bring social services and behavioral health care to the most vulnerable and expensive Medi-Cal patients, including homeless people and drug addicts. And after a Republican-controlled Congress nullified the Affordable Care Act’s penalties on the uninsured in 2017, Newsom approved an insurance requirement for Californians and state-based subsidies to help lower- and middle-income residents purchase coverage.
Despite this major expansion, an estimated 2.3 million Californians under the age of 65 will remain uninsured, according to an April analysis by University of California researchers.
Longtime health policy expert Richard Figueroa, who now serves as Newsom’s deputy cabinet secretary, argues that the administration has taken nation-leading steps to expand health insurance but acknowledges that California will never be able to expand coverage to everyone.
“Given the kind of patchwork system we have, we won’t always have some uninsured. There’s no need to enroll people, even if it’s affordable and even if it’s free,” Figueroa told KHN. “We’re filling a big gap in the access piece of the puzzle.”
Newsom’s expansion of health care coverage to all immigrants regardless of status could also open him up to criticism if he mounts a bid for national office.
Jennings said the question will translate to the rest of the country, “whether I can achieve these things in liberal California.” “When it comes to subsidizing immigrants, most national politicians have concluded that you can’t take that position and win nationally.”
Celinda Lake, a political strategist who helped lead polling for Biden’s 2020 campaign and conducts polling for the Democratic National Committee, said Newsom can deflect political attacks if he can make the case that he’s providing better care while saving taxpayers money.
“Democrats are fired, and voters don’t understand why more can’t be done in Washington,” Lake said. “No matter who is in the Democratic primary, you have to be for universal health care. And if Govt. Newsom runs in 2024 or 2028, but it might work to show what he’s done in California.”
This story was produced by KHN, which publishes California Healthline, the editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.
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