Gavin Newsom touts Biden support, dodges replacement talks

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a forceful defense of the beleaguered president Joe Biden on Thursday, telling Michigan Democrats that the 81-year-old president has the reputation and energy to win a second term despite widespread doubts about his ability to campaign or govern effectively.

Newsom’s pitch at a local Independence Day picnic is part of an effort by Biden’s re-election campaign and the White House to reassure party activists and the broader electorate that Biden is doing his job after appearing confused in his debate against former President Donald Trump.

“This is a serious moment in American history. It’s not complicated,” Newsom told Van Buren County Democrats as they focused on the prospects of another Trump presidency. “I have to convince you not to be fatalistic, not to fall prey to all this negativity. … Do more. Worry less.”

Newsom’s plea underscores the delicate balance for Democrats and party lieutenants like the 56-year-old governor: He has long been a top campaign deputy for Biden and was among the governors who threw their weight behind the president after a closed-door session at the White House on Wednesday. Yet Newsom himself is among those being mentioned as possible replacements Biden steps aside, allows open convention when Democratic delegates meet in Chicago next month.

The governor dodged questions about these possible outcomes, including whether he would support the vice president. Kamala Harrisa fellow Californian, for the nomination if Biden withdraws from the race.

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“I don’t even like to play in the hypotheticals, because last night was about eliminating all doubt and ambiguity,” he said, referring to Biden’s session with Democratic governors. “And then we start running in different directions, zigzagging and all that kind of speculation. And that gets in the way of progress.”

Newsom acknowledged “a tough couple of weeks” during his remarks to picnicgoers, and he admitted he had to scrap his planned talking points when he faced reporters in Atlanta after the debate. But he said Biden reassured him and other Democratic governors at the White House on Wednesday, where the president acknowledged his failure but expressed determination to rematch with Trump.

“That was the Joe Biden I remember two weeks ago. That was the Joe Biden I remember two years ago,” Newsom said. “That is the Joe Biden I want to see re-elected as president of the United States, and I mean that.”

Biden acknowledged to the governors that he needs to get more sleep and limit evening activities so he can get to bed earlier and be fit for work, according to three people familiar with the meeting. The sources spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Newsom did not elaborate on that explanation during his 15-minute speech, telling reporters afterward that Biden referred to late nights “with a smile on his face.”

“It was more of a rhetorical framework of just being fit and rested, because he burning on both sides that last 10 days or so (before the debate), and I think that’s what he was reflecting,” Newsom said. “It wasn’t literally ‘at 8 o’clock I’m going to do things differently,’ it was more figurative.”

Newsom said it’s OK for a “president to recognize that he’s human” and added that people are “reading between the lines too much” about what Biden said about his schedule.

Newsom drew enthusiastic applause from the partisan crowd. One of the attendees, Susan Kavanaugh, called his prospects “timely.”

“I was just so encouraged by his optimism and the fact that he was genuinely speaking from his heart,” she said. “Which reminds me very much of the character of Joe Biden.”

Despite the governor’s confidence, leading Democrats remain concerned about whether Biden can recover politically. The president’s aides and allies agree that the coming days are crucial, with Biden planning a visible, busy schedule that could halt a free fall in public trust — or further fuel voters’ concerns that he is too old for another term.

Biden will campaign Friday in Wisconsin, a key battleground he won in 2020, and will give an interview to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. It will air as a primetime special that evening. He plans to be in Philadelphia on Sunday and hold a full press conference during the NATO summit in Washington next week.

This week, in a radio interview, the president emphasized the voters’ choice and argued that Trump would be a disaster for American democracy and the economy.

Newsom echoed that framing in Michigan, urging party loyalists to embrace Biden’s record and values. He noted that unemployment remained low, wages were rising and that significant legislation was in place infrastructure spendingtackling climate change and boosting US manufacturing, especially computer chips.

“I believe in this man. I believe in his character. I believe he’s been one of the most transformative presidents in our collective lifetime,” Newsom said. “We’re so good at focusing on what’s wrong and not celebrating what’s right.” ——

Barrow reported from Atlanta. Associated Press reporter Seung Min Kim contributed from Washington.

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