Is Everyone Underestimating Gavin Newsom?

Speculation that President Joe Biden will not seek a second term continues to mount, despite his previous assurances that he intends to run in 2024.

Biden's age has been a focus of concern, with two polls released in the run-up to his 79th birthday last month suggesting that voters believe the president's health isn't good. His approval ratings also remain stubbornly low, despite apparent legislative wins such as the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.

The potential race to succeed Biden as the Democratic nominee has mostly been framed as a contest between Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. One contender may have been underestimated, however—Governor Gavin Newsom of California.

In September, Newsom survived with relative ease an effort to remove him from office in the nation's most populous state.

Almost 62 percent of California voters rejected the effort to unseat Newsom in the recall election, with just 38.1 percent supporting his removal. Newsom is running again in 2022 and it appears likely he will be re-elected in the deep blue state.

This does not necessarily mean he would be an obvious choice to succeed Biden—Harris has that title right now.

A Morning Consult poll conducted from December 11 to 13 asked 916 potential Democratic primary voters who they would support in 2024 if Biden decided not to run again.

Thirty-one percent of respondents chose the vice president and Buttigieg came second with 11 percent. Newsom was a distant sixth at just 3 percent, behind Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Nonetheless, much could change between this month and the first Democratic primaries in early 2024.

Thomas Gift, founding director of University College London's Centre on U.S. Politics, told Newsweek on Thursday that if Biden doesn't run, the "nomination would really be up for grabs."

Gift explained: "With Kamala Harris floundering, and no clear heir apparent, it's anyone's guess who could nab the opportunity. Gavin Newsom seems like a long shot—but then again, so would be pretty much any candidate at that stage."

The vice president has recently suffered a staffing exodus from her office amid speculation about a rift between her and Biden, which the White House has tried to tamp down.

According to Gift, Newsom's recall victory could help him stand out from a crowd of contenders in 2024.

"The fact that Newsom had to endure a recall election earlier this year did have one benefit for him: national visibility," he said. "While Newsom still isn't a household name outside his home state of California, more voters know him now than they did a year ago."

If Newsom isn't yet a household name across the country, that could account for the relatively poor odds his potential candidacy receives from bookmakers.

Betfair told Newsweek on Thursday that Newsom's chances of being the Democratic nominee if Biden doesn't run stand at 25-1.

By contrast, Harris has odds of 6-4 and Buttigieg is at 3-1.

Primary campaigns often throw up unexpected results, however, with early leading contenders falling short.

In 2008, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani were both regarded as frontrunners for their respective parties, but neither ended up as the candidate. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean had a similar experience in 2004.

It remains to be seen if Newsom would even jump into a race to succeed Biden. When he was asked about running for president following his recall election victory, Newsom said: "Literally 100 percent never been on my radar."

Pressed about whether he had designs on the Oval Office, the governor said: "No, none, never."

Many will be skeptical of Newsom's denials, which are common for potential candidates who don't wish to show their hand too soon. If the 2024 field opens up, White House hopefuls would be wise not to underestimate the governor of a state that will carry 54 reliably blue Electoral College votes.

Gavin Newsom Speaks at a News Conference
Governor Gavin Newsom at a news conference in Oakland, California, on October 8. Newsom has said he has not considered running for president. Getty Images/Justin Sullivan