A.G. Block: Newsom TV spot hurts Democrats

Lt. Gov. Gavin in ad for his gubernatorial campaign. (Screen capture)

“Do not poke a dozing elephant with a stick; if the elephant’s asleep, leave it alone.”

Now that you’ve been warned, let’s discuss Gavin Newsom.

With ballots in the mail and primary day a week away, Newsom recently ran a TV spot aimed at one of his five gubernatorial opponents – Republican John Cox. The broadside focused on guns and called attention to Cox’s support for the National Rifle Association and his opposition to gun control. Smart move, you say. With a dominant lead in polls, Newsom should get a head start on November by beating up a likely opponent who’s been endorsed by Donald Trump.

Because, y’know, Governor Lite is sweating the nightmare that is John Cox.

And Br’er Cox, no doubt, is sorely wounded after Newsom threw him in the briar patch.

Except, Newsom’s nightmare isn’t John Cox. Newsom’s nightmare is Antonio Villagraigosa. John Chiang. Delaine Eastin. Fellow Democrats all.

Thanks to California’s top-two “jungle” primary, Newsom could face off against one of those opponents in November. And since they share his views on most issues, the fall campaign could drift into matters that bend the door on Newsom’s anxiety closet. Morals and ethics, come to mind. That could be a tough, bruising campaign.

In that context, Newsom’s ad didn’t slam Cox. As others have noted, the ad promotes Cox by helping raise his profile not in a negative way with Democrats – who cares? – but in a positive way with the Republican base. Short of setting up an IE campaign for Cox, Newsom is joining Trump to boost Cox onto the November ballot. Cox is the opponent Newsom WANTS.

And make no mistake. This isn’t a repeat of Pat Brown’s misguided desire to run against Ronald Reagan in 1966. You heard it here first: John Cox is not Ronald Reagan.

Fine, you say. So what? Look at how Democratic Super PACs seem to covertly boost Republicans in congressional races. Smart politics, and good for Newsom.

Good for Gavin Newsom? Yup.

“Smart” depends on where you stand.

Because it’s really, really, really not smart for the Democratic Party.

In fact, it undermines the interests of the Democratic Party, both in California and nationally. It may come as a shock to Newsom, but “governor” is not the only dust-up on the November ballot. There are district contests; 53 of them to elect the state’s congressional delegation. Democrats want to re-gain control of the U.S. House and, to do that, they must flip as many seats as possible from red to blue.A number of GOP incumbents in California are vulnerable to that effort (looking at you, Jeff Denham). The key to success is Democratic turnout, and countless grassroots groups – Democrat, independent and nonpartisan – have hustled for more than a year to increase Democratic turnout in targeted GOP districts; and in shaky Democratic districts held by vulnerable incumbents (looking at you, Ami Bera).

The goal is for Democrats to vote in droves. And, if all goes well, for Republicans to stay home. Newsom’s ploy is a slap-in-the-puss to groups trying to flip districts and sabotages their efforts. For parochial reasons, Newsom is helping to put a Republican at the top of the ticket. And that Republican will motivate GOP voters who otherwise might take a pass with only Democrats at the top,a pass that oftenechoesdown the ballot – a significant factor in elections where every vote counts.

To be fair, the overall impact of Newsom’s tactic may be teeny teeny tiny.

Except, “teeny teeny tiny” wins and loses elections these days.

And these days, the nation’s future could depend on the outcome in one California congressional district.

A district where, say, Gavin Newsom poked the elephant.

Ed’s Note: A.G. Block is a grumpy retiree, the former editor of California Journal magazine and a member of the board of Open California, which publishes Capitol Weekly. 

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