California Politics: A new role for Newsom as GOP hopefuls gather in the Golden State

The political gaze of the nation turns to California this week as Republican candidates for president gather in the Golden State.

Seven of them — minus former President Trumpmet Wednesday in Simi Valley for the GOP debate. Trump will, however, be among the candidates descending on Anaheim Friday for the California Republican Party convention. Check tomorrow and over the weekend for full coverage of that event.

As for the debate — here are key plotlines you may have missed, even if you watched it on TV:

Democrats’ top attack dog? Gov. Gavin Newsom

Newsom has largely served as a cheerleader on the sidelines of President Biden’s reelection bid this year, fawning over his record in the White House to Democratic donors and slapping down criticism about the president’s age on the national news. But on Wednesday, Newsom graduated to the starting lineup. The Biden campaign deployed Newsom to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, site of the Republican presidential debate, as the president’s chief defender and leader of the Democratic offense, write political reporters Taryn Luna and Benjamin Oreskes. Before the debate began and after it wrapped up, Newsom held court among reporters answering every question volleyed. He’ll get an even more direct sparring opportunity on Nov. 30, when Newsom and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis plan to meet in Georgia for a one-on-one debate.

It’s not Ronald Reagan’s party anymore

This surely wasn’t the plan, but by placing their second candidate debate at the Reagan library, Republican officials put a spotlight on how far their party has moved from positions that made the 40th president a conservative icon, write senior editor David Lauter and political reporter Seema Mehta. On foreign policy, Social Security and Medicare, trade and immigration, the party of Trump has sharply shifted away from that of Reagan. Trump “is exactly the opposite of Reagan in personality and character,” writes Times columnist George Skelton, who covered Reagan up close for nearly two decades.

Meanwhile, Biden collected campaign cash in the Bay Area

As Republican candidates flocked to Southern California this week, Biden was busy in the San Francisco Bay Area collecting campaign checks and painting the election as a choice between MAGA chaos and functioning government, writes reporter Hannah Wiley. During three fundraising events in some of the swankiest neighborhoods of Silicon Valley and San Francisco, Biden touted his administration’s accomplishments and said he’s running for reelection because “democracy is still at stake.”

I’m Laurel Rosenhall, The Times’ Sacramento bureau chief, delivering your guide to the week’s news in California politics.

The race that’s still 3 years away

Tony Thurmond speaks into a microphone.

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond as a candidate in 2018.

(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Tony Thurmond, the state schools superintendent, is running for governor in 2026, becoming the latest Democrat to launch a campaign in a race that could draw a large field of contenders as Gov. Gavin Newsom is forced out of office by term limits.

In a new ad, Thurmond highlights his youth living in poverty, describing how he leaned on public assistance and worked at McDonald’s during college. The video aims to position Thurmond as an advocate for the working class in a state that is home to extreme wealth — a dynamic that could shape the race if California’s powerful labor unions get behind his campaign, writes reporter Mackenzie Mays.

The only other candidate to date to have officially launched a campaign is Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, a Democrat who comes from a wealthy family of home developers. Former state Controller Betty Yee also intends to run for governor, and said she will make her campaign official next year.

New laws on abortion, guns and LGBTQ issues

It’s bill-signing season in Sacramento. Newsom has until Oct. 14 to sign or veto hundreds of bills lawmakers sent him before the legislative session ended earlier this month. Here are the most newsworthy decisions he’s made so far:

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Keeping up with California politics

California leaders, beleaguered by homelessness crisis, want more power to clear camps
A tense debate across the American West over whether homeless people should be allowed to sleep in public places has created some strange bedfellows in California. Some of the state’s most prominent liberal leaders have pushed back against a set of court rulings that have limited when local authorities can clear the streets. Democrats Newsom and San Francisco Mayor London Breed have split from their party’s progressive left and the liberal judges behind the rulings, siding instead with conservative jurists and constituents who are fed up with the proliferation of encampments.

Most Californians want reparations for slavery but don’t want to pay cash. Now what?
For a strong majority of California voters, the question of whether the Golden State should offer cash payments to the descendants of enslaved African Americans has a clear answer: No. But despite that stark finding, from a new UC Berkeley poll co-sponsored by The Times, most California voters possess a more nuanced view on the lasting legacy of slavery and how the state should address those wrongs.

Frequent GOP L.A. congressional candidate charged with misusing campaign funds
Omar Navarro, a favorite of Trump’s MAGA movement for repeatedly challenging Democrat Maxine Waters for her congressional seat, was indicted on 43 counts of misusing campaign funds, including funneling tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations back to himself through friends and family.

California sues religious pregnancy clinics over ‘abortion pill reversal’ claims deemed false
California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta is suing clinics known as crisis pregnancy centers, alleging false advertisement of “abortion pill reversal,” a procedure considered experimental and opposed by top medical organizations. The lawsuit is the latest attempt by state Democratic leaders to rein in faith-based antiabortion clinics that have so far evaded legislative attempts at stricter regulation despite health warnings about the “reversal” procedure.

Column: California Democrats misfired by passing proposed tax on guns and ammo
“Aiming for more gun safety, the California Legislature fired away with hits and misses in its recently concluded annual session,” writes columnist George Skelton. He criticizes the new 11% state excise tax on firearm and ammunition sales but praises new limits on carrying concealed weapons.

Column: California lawmaker motivated by text from daughter during school shooting threat
Skelton talks to a freshman state legislator who wrote one of the gun-control measures Newsom signed this week, inspired in part by her daughter’s frightening experience hiding under her high school desk.

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