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California Gov. Gavin Newsom goes after Abbott in Texas on guns and abortion

After buying airtime in Florida to knock Gov. Ron DeSantis, a move that sparked speculation about his ambitions, Newsom has taken out full-page ads attacking Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom,Gavin Newsom,Toni Atkins
California Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif., on June 24, 2022.Rich Pedroncelli / AP file

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is running full-page ads in Texas newspapers Friday trolling Republican Gov. Greg Abbott to highlight a new California gun law modeled on the Lone Star State’s restrictive abortion law.

The ads, first shared with NBC News, will run in the Austin American-Statesman, Houston Chronicle and El Paso Times. They modify an Abbott quote about the state's abortion ban and promote “California’s answer to Texas’ perverse bill.”

“If Texas can ban abortion and endanger lives, California can ban deadly weapons of war and save lives. If Governor Abbott truly wants to protect the right to life, we urge him to follow California’s lead,” the ad reads.

The move is the latest example of Newsom's foray into national politics after buying TV ads in Florida knocking GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis and decrying Democratic timidity while in Washington last week.

It's also sure to fuel further speculation that the Democratic governor, who is expected to cruise to re-election this fall, is laying the groundwork for a possible presidential run.

Newsom on Friday plans to sign into law a bill modeled on the Texas abortion law. It will allow private citizens to sue people who make or sell banned weapons, such as so-called ghost guns.

The Texas law, passed before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, was a first-of-its-kind attempt to circumvent the constitutional right to an abortion by making private citizens, not the state, the primary means of enforcing the restrictions. The novel legal approach allows individuals to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps procure an abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy.

Greg Abbott
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a campaign stop, in San Antonio, on Feb. 17, 2022.Eric Gay / AP file

Newsom, like others, saw an opportunity to use the precedent set by the Texas statute to pursue Democratic policy goals, such as getting around the Supreme Court's recent decision that dramatically expanded the right to carry firearms in public.

Both the Texas abortion restriction and the new California gun measure are seen by critics as encouraging "vigilantism." The American Civil Liberties Union opposed Newsom's bill by warning it could “escalate an ‘arms race’ ... by setting up bounty-hunting schemes on politically sensitive issues.”

But in a telephone interview with NBC News on Thursday, Newsom said Democrats need to start playing hardball. “I think Democrats have been playing a little soft," he said.

“It’s absolutely true that I’d much rather follow, ‘When they go low, we go high,” he said, referring to a favorite line of former first lady Michelle Obama, “But I also think we’d be completely missing the moment we’re living in. The door’s open. It’s now fair play. The Supreme Court left the door open.”

He also said the California measure was written in a way that “forces the Supreme Court to reconcile their decision" on Texas' law, when it decided not to block enforcement of the law in December.

“There’s no principled way for them to strike down this law and uphold Texas," Newsom said.

All this national action has led many to wonder if Newsom is indeed eyeing national office.

The chairwoman of the California GOP said his trip to Washington to accept an education award last week was really about “measuring the drapes in the West Wing.”

Newsom, who has been on the national radar for years, shot down the speculation and said he wants President Joe Biden to run again in 2024.

“In no way, shape or form this has anything to do with that. Period. Full stop. Add six or seven exclamation points,” he told NBC News.

Still, he said, he thinks national Democrats have been too slow to recognize the threat Republicans represent, and too willing to let the other side pick the issues and set the terms of the political debate. 

“That recall really sharpened my understanding of things,” he said of the failed attempt to remove him from office last year. “My focus was raised and I’m deeply connected to what’s going on right now in a way I might not have been had that recall not happened.” 

His supporters have been thrilled with his out-of-state activities, and he said “the ads pay for themselves” with the extra contributions they generate, while noting that was never the intention of running them.

The Florida ads targeting DeSantis, another potential 2024 presidential candidate, cost about $100,000 while the new Texas ads cost around $30,000 — a fraction of the $23 million he reported having in his campaign war chest — and far less than the value of the media attention they earn.

Plus, he said, it beats putting out “another press release criticizing Manchin and Sinema. Sinema and Manchin. Manchin, Sinema. Sinema, Manchin — I can’t do that anymore," referring to Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who have stymied much of the Democrats’ agenda in Washington.

No matter the method, Newsom said, he wants to keep finding creative ways to influence the national conversation, and in doing so he's likely to keep his name in the 2024 mix.

"This is iteration, I’m trying a new approach," he said. "Is this the end? I hope it’s not."