George Skelton: Newsom and Cuomo have been top leaders in the coronavirus crisis. Don’t count on them to challenge Biden

Tribune Content Agency

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been drawing lots of speculation about maybe becoming an upgraded Democratic presidential nominee, pushing aside bland Joe Biden.

But there hasn’t been a peep about California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Why’s that?

Both governors are doing a statesman-like job leading their states through the surging coronavirus pandemic. So why all the national political focus just on Cuomo?

Well, it makes sense.

Cuomo, 62, seems president-ready because of his long, impressive resume. He’s a gifted orator and that makes him more exciting. He’s also near the epicenter of the national news media.

But let’s be honest: Neither governor would have any chance of shoving aside the former vice president even if one of them wanted to. And neither apparently does.

Cuomo’s younger brother, CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, asked his sibling on TV Tuesday whether he was thinking of running for president. “No, no,” Andrew Cuomo replied.

Was he open to thinking about it? “No.” Might he be at some point? “No.” How can he know now what he might think about later? “I know what I might think about and what I won’t think about.”

No ambiguity there.

As for Newsom, 52, he knows this isn’t his time to bid for the White House. He has only been governor for 15 months. It might be his time in 2024 if President Donald Trump is reelected in November and there’s no Democratic incumbent.

But no sitting California governor has ever run successfully for president. Ronald Reagan, Jerry Brown and Pete Wilson all tried. It’s too demanding to spend months in Iowa and New Hampshire charming voters in coffee shops while governing the nation’s most populous and diverse state several time zones away.

Newsom’s time will come in 2028 if there’s not a Democrat seeking a second term.

Biden hasn’t officially clinched this year’s nomination, but he has a practically insurmountable lead in delegates over his lone remaining opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“This happens every four years when there are contested primaries,” veteran Democratic consultant Bill Carrick says with a tone of frustration. “Somebody decides the presumed nominee isn’t interesting enough. People start speculating. ‘What if?’ What if nothing!

“Biden ran. Biden won lots of states and delegates. Biden is going to be the nominee. It is mathematically impossible — and politically worse — for someone to now get in and become the nominee. Guess how many delegates Cuomo has? Zero. Can you imagine someone who hasn’t competed for one vote getting in the race at this point? It’s ridiculous.”

Carrick adds: “This is the result of extreme time zone prejudice. Newsom’s in California and the East Coast (news media) dominates political reporting in the country. And New York is where a bunch of (reporters) live so they talk about people from the East Coast.”

There’s truth in that. But there’s also a legitimate basis for the “draft Cuomo” speculation.

Face it, Democratic voters aren’t real excited about Biden, 77.

They’ve looked seriously — if sometimes briefly — at several candidate options during this nominating process: Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, even a glance at Michael Bloomberg, plus Sanders. And Democrats returned to Biden, the original front-runner, because they judged him the best bet to beat Trump.

But for weeks, Biden has been confined to his house, just like most of the rest of us, trying to escape the rampaging virus. With no official role to play in the pandemic fight — unlike Cuomo, Newsom and Trump — Biden is stuck on the bench, mostly out of action except for occasional TV interviews.

Cuomo and Newsom have been holding daily, televised virus briefings. The New Yorker is a talented speaker who gets right to the point.

“Kick coronavirus’ ass,” he told National Guard officers, according to the New York Times.

Cuomo is in the spotlight — performing and entertaining. It’s natural to dream of him as Trump’s opponent, energizing Democratic voters and drawing them to the polls.

His qualifications aren’t in question: a three-term governor, state attorney general, U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Bill Clinton. And there’s the family pedigree: His father, Mario Cuomo, was also a three-term New York governor.

Newsom was mayor of San Francisco, but he needs to put in more years as governor before asking Americans to elect him president. He understands that.

Cuomo is sounding like a leader — and Newsom is acting like one, not that Cuomo isn’t.

Newsom was the nation’s first governor to confine people to their homes — fortunately without turning California into a total police state by asking cops to arrest violators.

“Social pressure … is the most powerful enforcement tool we have,” the governor says.

In a refreshing sign of once-unimaginable bipartisanship, Newsom and Trump have been cooperating and formed — if only briefly — a mini-mutual admiration society. Trump has repeatedly praised Newsom for “doing a terrific job.”

“This is not a time to bicker,” Newsom told host Jake Tapper of CNN’s “The Lead” on Wednesday. “I don’t care who is up and down … or who wants to run for president or who doesn’t. When it comes to times of crisis … I have extended always an open hand, not a closed fist… .

“I’d be lying to you to say that (Trump) hasn’t been responsive to our needs. He has.”

Who wants to run for president? Biden. Not Newsom, not Cuomo — not this year. Maybe in the future they’ll be rivals for the Oval Office.



Political columnist George Skelton has covered government and politics for nearly 60 years and for the Los Angeles Times since 1974.


©2020 Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.