Newsom is pledging to finish a four-year term if re-elected governor

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – California Gov. Gavin Newsom pledged Sunday that he would serve a full four-year term if re-elected in November, again trying to quell speculation that he wants to replace Democrat Joe Biden on the ballot if he does not seek a second term.

Newsom made the pledge during an hour-long debate with his Republican challenger, state Sen. Brian Dahle — the only time the two candidates will meet face-to-face before voting closes on Nov. 8.

Newsom is expected to easily win re-election in November more than a year after beating back a recall attempt fueled by anger over his pandemic policies — which included the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order. He has barely campaigned in California this year, instead spending money on ads in challenging Republican incumbents Florida and Texas — potential opponents in a presidential election.

“Every day, Californians understand what’s happening here in California, and the governor is focused on running for president,” Dahle said during a debate broadcast live by KQED News. The debate airs again Sunday night on KQED Public Television.

Asked directly by co-moderator Marisa Lagos if he would commit to serving all four years if re-elected, Newsom said “yes.” Newsom defended his national campaign, saying he “barely” left the state to take on national Republican leaders, who he says are banning books and “degrading” the LGBT community.

“This is a serious moment in American history,” Newsom said. “I’ve had enough. So I will stand up proudly and happily.”

The debate mostly followed the flow of policy messages from the nation’s two major political parties, with Newsom focusing on climate change and abortion rights, while Dahle focused on the economy, particularly California’s high cost of living, which includes gas prices that have risen as much as $2.60 higher than the national average.

Dahle, a farmer from the northwest corner of California who also owns a trucking business, said it cost $200 a day to put diesel fuel in his trucks — a cost he says has increased the price of food. He said California should have used its record budget surplus to suspend the state’s gas tax, which he says would amount to a $1,700 rebate to taxpayers.

“He’s out of touch with everyday, hard-working, middle-class Californians,” Dahle said. “Yes, he and his buddies can afford $70,000 Teslas, but Californians on the whole have no choice but to just suffer under the policies Gavin Newsom has put forth.”

Newsom pushed back, noting that he has signed laws sending billions of dollars back to taxpayers since the start of the pandemic, with the latest round of cash hitting taxpayer bank accounts this month. That’s far better than suspending the state’s gas tax, Newsom said, because there would be no way to guarantee that the oil companies would pass the savings on to drivers.

He accused Dahle of voting against those rebates in the state legislature. Records show Dahle voted in favor of a bill that would implement the tax credits, but he voted against a broader budget proposal that included money to pay for them.

On abortion, Dahle said he would eliminate $20 million in the state budget that would help pay for women from other states to come to California for the procedure. But he said he would leave money for “reproductive care” in the budget, without detailing what that meant.

He criticized Newsom for supporting Proposition 1, a measure on the ballot this year that would enshrine the right to abortion in the California constitution. Dahle said the amendment, if passed, would make abortion legal “up to the minute before birth.”

Newsom said he would not “apologize for having the backs of women and girls across this country.”

“What my opponent is saying is that a 10-year-old who is raped by his father should be forced to carry his brother or sister,” Newsom said. “His position is extreme.”

There were no surprises as both men held on to the positions they have held throughout their long careers in politics. Newsom defended his and his wife’s decision to send their children to a private school, saying the school is focused on “creativity and critical thinking and the kinds of things we promote in our public education system.”

Dahle said his two sons attended public schools, but says his daughter attends a private school “because you and I both know that the better education is private education because our schools are failing.”

That sparked a heated exchange about education policy, with Dahle saying Newsom can’t blame Republicans because they “have not been in control in California for the last 10 years.”

“I blame you for not having one imaginative idea except those promoted by people like Betsy DeVos,” Newsom said, a reference to former President Donald Trump’s education secretary.

The debate is likely to be the highlight of Dahle’s campaign. He has raised less than $1 million, not enough to run nationwide television ads in the nation’s most populous state, home to some of the nation’s most expensive media markets.

“Every day we’re trying to get people to know who I am,” Dahle said, adding that he plans to drive a truck across the state and hold rallies leading up to Election Day.

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