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Abortion Leaps to Center of Gov Race

Newsom pulverizes Cox on divisive issue while Republican points to economy

By Evan Gahr

Lt Gov. Gavin Newsom has made abortion rights a centerpiece of his campaign for governor. (gavinnewsom.com)

Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom is suddenly making abortion rights an issue in the California gubernatorial campaign, even though his fervently pro-life opponent, John Cox, hasn’t really raised the contentious matter.

The always ambitious Newsom is now focusing on abortion–coincidentally or not–around the same time that Democrats are promising to make it an issue in congressional elections because President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, could be the fifth vote needed to overturn Roe v. Wade.

On Thursday in San Francisco, accepting endorsements from NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood, Newsom said his rival’s abortion stances are “perhaps the most extreme on these issues in my lifetime.”

Newsom told the Sacramento Bee that “I have to” talk about abortion because Cox “is not going to champion women’s health.”

“With all due respect to those who say, ‘Oh, what’s a governor have to do with this?’ Everything. A ton,” he argued.

“It’s about Supreme Court decisions. It’s about having an administration that supports an attorney general that will advance lawsuits that protect this state, funding those efforts, supporting those efforts” because this  “is not just about Roe v. Wade, it’s about reproductive rights, and it’s about the sustainability of the Affordable Care Act, and it’s about Trump and Trumpism and the impact it will have on women’s health.”

In the burgeoning campaign, Cox, a Republican businessman has focused on economic issues, like repealing California’s new gas tax, in the burgeoning campaign. But he opposes abortion in all cases.

At a 2006 conservative political conference, Cox explained that “I think anybody who has a rape and incest exception to abortion really hasn’t thought it through. Killing the baby is not going to absolve the crime of rape.” [Cox’s abortion comments start at about 7:30 in the linked video.]

Since finishing second to Newsom in the primary, Cox has tried to downplay his stance on abortion, perhaps realizing it’s a losing issue in a state where a poll last year found that 71% of those surveyed favored giving women unimpeded access to abortion.

His campaign spokesman told the LA Times earlier this month that Cox’s “personal positions on abortion are well known but as governor he would enforce the law.”

California has some of the most liberal abortion policies in the nation, with none of the barriers to obtaining an abortion that many other states have enacted.  According to the Gutmacher Institute, the state “does not have any of the major types of abortion restrictions—such as waiting periods, mandated parental involvement or limitations on publicly funded abortions—often found in other states.”

So why focus on abortion when it seems like such a settled issue in the Golden State?

Pomona State political science professor David McCuan says Newsom is trying to define his opponent in such a way that gives the lieutenant governor more sway among voters, burnishes his Democratic Party credentials and injects energy into his campaign during the slow summer months.

Identifying the “candidate with a specific issue position does allow Gavin Newsom to take hold of the message and our political times by aligning himself squarely with a national base that is worried about the Supreme Court, but is impotent to do much,” McCuan told CaliforniaGlobe.com. “The Newsom campaign is also going to leverage those aforementioned voters in key Congressional Districts (like the 48th and 49th CDs, among the 7 the DCCC has targeted in California) which shows he’s a national Democratic leader, and has down ballot effects thereby building a support base while isolating Cox.”

“All told, it’s a strategy for the summer blues that kills multiple birds with one issue.”

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