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Californian Gavin Newsom touts his support for President Joe Biden and avoids talks of replacement

SOUTH HAVEN, Michigan – California Governor Gavin Newsom came to the strong defense of embattled President Joe Biden on Thursday, telling Michigan Democrats that the 81-year-old president has the track record and energy needed to win a second term despite widespread doubts about his ability to campaign or govern effectively.

Newsom's address at a local Independence Day picnic is part of an effort by Biden's re-election campaign and the White House to reassure party activists and the broader electorate that Biden is up to the task after he appeared confused in his debate against former President Donald Trump.

“This is a serious moment in American history. It's not complicated,” Newsom told Van Buren County Democrats, drawing their attention to the prospects of another Trump presidency. “I have to convince you not to be fatalistic and not to fall victim to all this negativity. … Do more. Worry less.”

Newsom's appeal underscores the precarious balance between Democrats and party leaders like the 56-year-old governor: He has long been a key surrogate for Biden's campaign and was among the governors who threw their support behind the president after a private meeting at the White House on Wednesday. But Newsom himself has been mentioned as a possible successor should Biden step down and allow a public convention when Democratic delegates meet in Chicago next month.

The governor dodged questions about those possible outcomes, including whether he would support the nomination of Vice President Kamala Harris, also of California, if Biden drops out of the race.

“I don't even like playing in hypothetical scenarios, because last night was about removing all the doubts and ambiguities,” he said, referring to Biden's meeting with Democratic governors. “And then we start running in different directions, zigzagging and all this kind of speculation. And that gets in the way of progress.”

Newsom acknowledged in his remarks to picnic attendees that it has been “a rough couple of weeks” and admitted he had to scrap his planned post-debate talking points to reporters in Atlanta. But he said Biden reassured him and other Democratic governors at the White House on Wednesday, where the president acknowledged his flop but expressed his determination to win the rematch against Trump.

“That was the Joe Biden I remember from two weeks ago. That was the Joe Biden I remember from two years ago,” Newsom said. “That is the Joe Biden I want to re-elect as president of the United States, and I mean that.”

Biden acknowledged to governors that he needed more sleep and to limit evening events so he could go to bed earlier and be fit for the job, according to three people familiar with the meeting. The sources spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Newsom did not address these explanations in his 15-minute remarks. He told reporters afterward that Biden referred to the late nights “with a smile on his face.”

“It was more of a rhetorical framework of just being fit and rested, because he's been giving it his all over the last 10 days (before the debate), and I think that's what he was trying to convey,” Newsom said. “It wasn't meant literally, 'At 8 o'clock I'm going to do things differently,' it was more figurative.”

Newsom said it was OK for a “president to recognize that he is human,” adding that people were “reading too much between the lines” in Biden's comments about his schedule.

Newsom received enthusiastic applause from the partisan crowd. One attendee, Susan Kavanaugh, called his views “timely.”

“His optimism and his honest words from the bottom of his heart just encouraged me so much,” she said. “It reminds me a lot of the character of Joe Biden.”

Despite the governor's confidence, leading Democrats remain concerned about Biden's ability to bounce back politically. The president's advisers and allies agree that the coming days are crucial. Biden has a visible, busy schedule that could stem a potential loss of public confidence or further heighten voters' concerns that he is too old to run for another term.

Biden is scheduled to campaign in Wisconsin on Friday, a key voting district he won in 2020, and will be interviewed by ABC's George Stephanopoulos in prime time that evening. He plans to be in Philadelphia on Sunday and hold a press conference in Washington during the NATO summit next week.

Already this week, the president used a radio interview to emphasize voters' freedom of choice and claim that Trump would be a disaster for American democracy and the economy.

Newsom echoed that sentiment in Michigan, urging party supporters to embrace Biden's record and values, citing sustained low unemployment, rising wages and key infrastructure spending legislation that addresses climate change and boosts American manufacturing, particularly computer chips.

“I believe in this man. I believe in his character. I believe he was one of the most influential presidents in our collective lifetime,” Newsom said. “We are so good at focusing on what is wrong and not celebrating what is right.” ——

Barrow reported from Atlanta. Associated Press reporter Seung Min Kim contributed from Washington.