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Ace California Political Reporter Carla Marinucci on Newsom: "Now Comes the Really Difficult Part"

Gavin Newsom won early praise for aggressive action to curtail the rapid spread of Covid-19 in California -- but now is struggling politically, as cities and counties eager to re-open challenge his statewide stay-at-home decree.

Prominent Republican attorney Harmeet Dillion, who filed nine lawsuits against the order, framed the increasingly vocal opposition to Newsom's go-slow management of the pandemic this way: The governor "went from 'Let's flatten the curve for two weeks' to 'Let's put everyone on house arrest until we find a cure.'"

To better understand the 52-year old governor's dilemma in balancing public health and economic demands of the crisis, and how he may handle the conflict, Newsmakers spoke with veteran California political reporter Carla Marinucci, who has covered Newsom since his days as a San Francisco parking commissioner in the 1990s.

Marinucci, now the senior writer for Politico's "California Playbook," has been a fixture of the political press corps for four decades. An old friend and colleague who has covered six presidential campaigns and seven races for California governor, she is a tenacious reporter, prolific writer and frequent TV and radio commentator, with a prize-winning presence on social media.

"Now comes the really difficult part" for Newsom, said Marinucci, who detailed how the governor recently brought on a new, high-powered team of crisis communication consultants in Sacramento to help manage his response to the pandemic. "The economic pressure now is on Gavin Newsom, and it's very hard to navigate this."

"Nothing is a bigger story now than Tesla and Elon Musk," she said, citing the open defiance of Newsom's order by electric car magnate Musk, who has restarted manufacturing operations at a plant he owns in the Bay Area.

"This guy employs almost 40,000 people in California, 10,000 up there in Fremont, not to mention the number of businesses that depend on that Tesla plant," she said. "There is where Newsom’s problem is...and some of the criticism (that) he acts fast, he shoots fast and then, he has to think about the impacts."

Marinucci also shed some light on Newsom's strange and shifting relationship with Donald Trump.

After spending the first year of his term as the high-profile, high-decibel leader of "the Resistance" to the White House, Newsom in the pandemic has been far more diplomatic, if not downright ingratiating, as he has sought resources and relief supplies from Washington.

"This has been one of the strangest political relationships," Carla said, noting that Newsom for a time became so effusive in his praise of Trump, that his words and image have ended up in three ads for the president's re-election effort.

"'Promise made, promise kept,'" Marinucci recounted the governor declaiming about Trump. "I don’t know if he realized he was echoing the tag line of the Trump re-elect campaign when he did that. Of course they put him in an ad...he’s there, acting essentially as a surrogate for Trump.

"Which is probably why he endorsed Joe Biden last week," she added, with a laugh.

In our conversation, Carla also:

  • Analyzed Trump's maniacal tweeting about Tuesday's special election in the 25th Congressional District between Republican Mike Garcia and Democrat Christy Smith to fill out the term of former Rep. Katie Hill, who resigned amid a sex scandal: "He’s either setting the stage to say, ' See, I helped Mike Garcia win this one, people are behind me,' or he’s setting the stage to say, 'it was a rigged election and they stole it from us.' So either way he’s going to win the messaging on this."

  • Assessed the chances of California U.S. Senator Kamala Harris to become Joe Biden's running mate: Harris's celebrated primary debate attack on Biden over busing is, "maybe all forgotten seems that’s Harris's star is on the rise here in the VP" sweepstakes.

  • Criticized the state of Biden's online and digital campaign operations, when matched against the juggernaut the Trump campaign has built: "He does need to get his internet stuff up to speed…They’re much less aggressive on that front. Biden should use his platform in the basement – he has to up that game – to talk to major decision makers , endorsers. He's doing virtual town halls a little bit, but I think they could use that platform in a much more aggressive way."

There's lots more gab and gossip in our fast-moving 30-minute conversation, including the true story of how Carla gave Jerry his one and only chance to yell, "Stop the presses!" on election night 2000. You could look it up.

Watch the entire interview with Carla Marinucci by clicking below. The podcast version is here.


Images: Twitter; Newsom-Trump (KPBS).

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