Newsom on his swing-state tour to help Biden: 'I pick up the fight'

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, center right, greets people, Monday, July 8, 2024, near the Common Man Roadside Market and Deli, in Hooksett, N.H. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Gov. Gavin Newsom stumps for President Biden in Hooksett, N.H., on July 8, 2024. Vice President Kamala Harris will rally Asian American voters the next day in Nevada. (Steven Senne / Associated Press)

As President Biden tries to cling on to the Democratic Party nomination in the aftermath of his calamitous debate performance, prominent Californians — notably Vice President Kamala Harris and Gov. Gavin Newsom — are trying to buttress the embattled incumbent on the campaign trail.

Newsom stumped for the president Monday in New Hampshire, the state that holds the nation's first presidential primary and has reliably voted Democratic in recent decades but appears to be in play in 2024. Harris rallied Asian American voters on Tuesday in Nevada, another critical early voting state.

"I decided instead of just rolling over and giving up, that I would step up, and I pick up the fight and that's why I've been in Michigan and Pennsylvania. That's why I'm here," Newsom told reporters at a turnpike rest stop near Manchester after greeting Biden supporters and nibbling on an apple cider doughnut. "I took my holiday weekend. It wasn't easy to be away from the kids and I said there was something more important — liberty, the future, reproductive care, freedom. ... All those things are profoundly on the ballot. Daylight and darkness."

Newsom rallied Democrats in Michigan and Pennsylvania before arriving in the "Live Free or Die" state Sunday night. On Monday, in addition to the rest stop event where Newsom met with local reporters — and was told to "return to California" by a disgruntled passerby — he held events with Biden campaign interns, met with state party officials and raised money for legislative candidates.

The campaign's decision to send Newsom to New Hampshire is notable. The Granite State used to be purple but last voted for a Republican presidential candidate in 2000. Biden won the 2020 election here with 52.7% of the vote.

Read more: Angry Biden: 'Go ahead. Challenge me at the convention'

The state has only four electoral votes, but it's always closely watched because of its first-in-the-nation status in the nominating contests. Biden came in fifth in the 2020 primary, behind Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren. Biden got 8.4% of the primary vote.

Tristan Mitzen, a 23-year-old Dartmouth student who was eating a chimichanga and sipping a Negro Modelo at Tacos Y Tequila in Hanover, is among the young voters who backed Sanders in the 2020 primary. He abandoned his Democratic Party voter registration the following day and then sat out the general election that year. Mitzen said Monday that he may do the same this year because he believes Biden doesn't appreciate the difficulties facing many Americans.

"My generation has it harder than anyone else," the history major said.

Biden has consistently led former President Trump in New Hampshire in general election polls, until now. A survey by the well-regarded Saint Anselm College in Goffstown in the aftermath of the debate found Trump leading by 2 percentage points, well within the margin of error, but a far cry from its June poll that had Biden leading by 9 points.

Asked why he was spending time in a state that has gone Democratic in recent years, Newsom said he went wherever Biden's campaign is sending him. (He is among the incumbent's campaign committee leaders and has held well over two dozen events in support of the president this year.)

"They're not taking it for granted," he said in an interview, sitting on a curb behind the rest stop in Hanover, where the temperature was in the upper 80s.

The octogenarian Biden's age is a source of concern among Democrats, especially in the aftermath of last month's debate. Newsom argued that the president's energy and skills are best shown when he is on the stump, compared with when he is on television, and called it Biden's "superpower."

"I've seen it over and over and over again, he gets energized with people. He doesn't get energized up onstage by himself in a cold studio," Newsom added. "You feel it, you see it. And he loves people. I mean, he just loves it. His biggest critics have to acknowledge that he loves people."

Still, he acknowledged that Democrats' growing public angst over their presumptive nominee does not aid their party's cause.

"Obviously it's not helpful," Newsom told reporters in a doughnut and coffee shop, before adding that the naysayers were "just a handful of people."

Frequently mentioned as a future White House contender, Newsom repeatedly did not respond to questions about his 2028 presidential aspirations in an interview and throughout the public portions of his appearance in Hanover.

He had been scheduled to headline a fundraiser Monday afternoon for statehouse candidates in Hanover for weeks — the typical kind of event that White House hopefuls hold to curry favor with local elected officials in the early states. It was canceled Monday morning, according to an employee of the Mexican restaurant in Hanover.

He noted that he would still be governor for 2½ years.

"Come on. I have two more budgets, three more legislative sessions," Newsom said in the interview, before once again demurring about his future political aspirations. "I hope there's a country that allows free and fair elections in the future."

On Tuesday, Harris spoke to a friendly crowd of supporters in a Las Vegas resort ballroom to launch the campaign's initiative for Asian American, Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian voters. At several points, the crowd of a few hundred people spontaneously erupted into chants of "Four more years!"

"Indeed," Harris said with a laugh. "And a lot of work to do!"

Newsom and Harris — contemporaries whose careers were forged in the crucible of San Francisco politics — are publicly and vocally standing by Biden. But their names are among the most cited as potential replacements should the president decide to not seek reelection as a growing number of Democrats call on him to bow out.

On Sunday, Rep. Adam B. Schiff of Burbank was the latest Democrat to express concerns about Biden’s candidacy.

“The performance on the debate stage, I think rightfully, raised questions among the American people about whether the president has the vigor to defeat Donald Trump. And this is an existential race,” Schiff, a candidate for U.S. Senate, said on NBC's “Meet the Press.” “It should not be even close. And there's only one reason it is close, and that's the president's age.”

Read more: With Biden faltering, can Trump finally win Orange County?

Biden on Monday repeated that he would not drop out of the race, sending a letter to Democrats urging them to unite around his candidacy and defeating Trump.

"The question of how to move forward has been well-aired for over a week now. And it's time for it to end," Biden wrote. "We have one job. And that is to beat Donald Trump. ... Any weakening of resolve or lack of clarity about the task ahead only helps Trump and hurts us. It is time to come together, move forward as a unified party, and defeat Donald Trump."

Given the growing drumbeat among Democrats for Biden to step aside, Harris is considered the clear favorite to replace him should that occur. But Newsom’s name has also been raised. Neither has given any public indication of hoping to replace Biden.

“Newsom, I think he’s smart enough to realize if it’s not Biden, it’s going to be Harris," said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire. "He'll keep doing what he’s doing, playing the long game, if Harris fails. If she gets the nomination and doesn’t manage to pull it off, then the fields open in 2028.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.