Opinion | Gavin Newsom and Prop 1: A masterclass for Democrats in the midterms

Nov. 3, 2022, 6:54 p.m.

I am by no means a staunch ally of California Gov. Gavin Newsom. He is bankrolled by PG&E, the state’s largest utility company that he lets get off scot-free despite its clear responsibility for wildfires under his watch. He has also abandoned his 2018 campaign pledge to enact a single-payer healthcare program in the state. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to my critiques for the leader of the Golden State. 

We should not ignore Newsom’s broken promises, but it is necessary to take note when he clearly demonstrates political ingenuity. 

For the midterm elections this year, he went on the offensive for Proposition 1. If a majority of California voters support it, there will be constitutional protections in the state for contraceptives and abortion. Newsom made the right decision to go on a $2.5 million ad campaign on the ballot measure’s behalf. This is the right course of action even when considering the fact that abortion faces little risk in California; Newsom has already signed a series of bills into law expanding abortion protections in California. Taking a stand against the Supreme Court’s disgusting repeal of Roe v. Wade last June, Newsom’s approach will serve Democratic politics well. Amid concerns that Democratic prospects will take a turn for the worse and hand Congress as well as state governments across the country over to Republicans, Newsom will not leave it up to chance. On the fight for Prop 1 to keep abortion in the political conversation, Newsom said to Politico, “The better we do on this, the more intensity, the more we dial it up, I also think it sends a message that reverberates across our borders.” 

The connection between victories for Democrats across the nation and the fight for abortion access could not be more obvious. Even in Kansas where voters last voted blue on the presidential level in 1964, 59 percent of voters wanted to keep abortion protections in place. 

The power that abortion has to tip the scales in favor of Democrats panned out once more in a tightly won House election in New York, where Democrat Pat Ryan outperformed Biden’s margins in the area two years ago. Hours after Roe v. Wade was overturned, he released his campaign’s first ad and had abortion as the core message. A former Army officer during the Iraq War, Ryan rhetorically asked “How can we be a free country if the government tries to control women’s’ bodies?” and responded “That’s not the country I fought to defend.” Ryan made his support for abortion central to his campaign. This is a good sign, considering how most predictions and trends throughout history point to a Democratic loss of the House during midterm elections with a sitting Democratic President.

At the very least, Newsom is pointing in the general direction that Democrats can and should follow. The importance of Newsom’s direction is underscored by the strong role that California has long had on the national stage. The state was at the forefront of several fights against the Trump administration on issues such as climate change, immigration, education and healthcare. Kamala Harris, prior to becoming vice president and breaking Senate ties on important pieces of legislation, was the attorney general for California and then served as one of its U.S. senators. Looking even further back in history, before Chief Justice Earl Warren brought the Supreme Court to an era of ensuring civil liberties and racial justice, he served as attorney general and governor in California. The state, for several decades now, has been leaving its mark on the country.

While voters outside California will have no say on its abortion measure, that does not mean they are not feeling the effects of the conversation that California is helping shape. Since the Supreme Court tore Roe v. Wade to shreds, women have made up a majority of newly registered voters in the states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Importantly, this comes as a recent Gallup poll analysis has shown women to vote for Democratic candidates 14 percentage points more often than Republican candidates, a strong sign for Democratic turnout. Crucially, those three states are poised to have close races for their respective Senate races. In a just barely Democratic-controlled Senate, this is of paramount importance. 

Increasingly competitive senatorial and gubernatorial races in the Midwest get a lot of focus, reasonably so. The Newsom approach of embracing the abortion fight full-stop will serve Democrats well in those races. Maintaining this message gives newly-registered and continuing Democratic voters something clear and urgent to rally around. The nation is looking to California once again, and Newsom on the fight for Prop 1 and reproductive justice in general is in the spotlight. Newsom continues to be on the right side of this fight, and I commend him wholeheartedly for his bold action. He is helping to pull the Democratic Party in the right direction. I hope that this is one of the things that gets Democrats across the finish line to winning congressional seats, state legislatures, governorships and local offices across the country.

Sebastian Strawser is a writer for the News section. He enjoys Filipino food and Avatar The Last Airbender. Contact him at news 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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