Column: Newsom for president? No thanks, say Nevada Democrats, who have a big voice in 2024

When David Mulcrone looks to the 2024 presidential race, he’s filled with a combination of resignation and determination.

Gay and Latino, he no longer feels comfortable in Donald Trump’s Republican Party. So he’ll vote for President Biden if that’s what it takes to keep Trump out of the White House a second time — even though Mulcrone is not terribly enthusiastic about the prospect.

“Too old,” Mulcrone said of the 81-year-old incumbent. But then again, “Democrats didn’t put themselves in a position to put anyone else forward.”

In an alternative universe — one where things like money, filing deadlines and other practicalities don’t matter — there is wishful talk of a late entry in the Democratic contest, a savior to swoop in and electrify the party with a jolt of energy and passion.

Someone like, say, Gavin Newsom.

California’s 56-year-old governor has repeatedly, adamantly insisted he has no plans whatsoever to challenge the president.

Still, the talk of a 2024 candidacy persists, fueled not just by Newsom’s words and deeds — a snarky debate with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, turns on the national and international stages — but also the chatter of political gossips and frustration of Democrats despairing over Biden’s reelection bid.

If you ignored Newsom’s protestations and looked for a place he might launch an insurgent campaign, next-door Nevada and its early primary would seem a good place to start.

But Mulcrone wants no part of that scenario.

And he’s not alone among fellow Democrats regarding California as more of a curse than a cure for their political anxieties.

“The last time I was in San Francisco was about five years ago,” Mulcrone, 52, said as he led his three pet beagles on a walk in Green Valley, a well-to-do Las Vegas suburb.

Mulcrone, who works in sales, recalled stepping from his car and immediately being hit with a pungent whiff of urine rising from the street. He blamed Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor, for the city’s decay.

“I think his policies were too liberal and that kind of laid the foundation for why S.F. is the mess it is now,” Mulcrone said. “I don’t care if I ever set foot there again.”

Michele Hoffman shared his political sentiments.

She voted for Biden in 2020 and appreciates him “keeping the country on an even keel.” But Hoffman would have preferred Biden not seek reelection — again, because of the incumbent’s advanced age.

At this point, however, she sees no viable alternative to the president — and can’t imagine Newsom replacing Biden atop the Democratic ticket.

“He’s got that California stigma,” said Hoffman, 66, who retired to Henderson after working 30 years at a university in Kansas. “I’m from Missouri, from a very conservative area, and I don’t think he would get the support from the rest of the country that he would need to beat Joe Biden.”

Nevada is poised to play a major role in 2024 as one of a handful of battlegrounds that will decide the presidential race. Before that, it will be the first Western state to weigh in on the Democratic nomination.

New Hampshire votes on Jan. 23, though Biden has kept his name off the ballot to boost the import of subsequent states. South Carolina, which salvaged Biden’s candidacy in 2020, will follow on Feb 3. Nevada votes three days later.

But the place is not exactly teeming with Newsom supporters.

In nearly three dozen interviews with voters in and around Las Vegas, the election epicenter where most Nevada voters live, not one of them mentioned California’s governor as a substitute for Biden.

(There was also no clamor for Vice President Kamala Harris to step in as the Democratic nominee. “I just don’t think she’s been the strong presence that I envisioned,” said Hoffman, who backed Harris’ 2020 presidential bid.)

Biden had his defenders.

Ian Flashner, a Las Vegas Democrat, said too much has been made of the president’s age.

“I understand why people have concerns, but the guy’s getting the job done,” said Flashner, 52, who makes his living selling grocery store equipment. “If he was 10 years younger, no one would say a word.”

Most, however, were like Courtney Pruitt.

The 35-year-old Democrat voted for Biden in 2020 — “Trump made it easy” — but would prefer a nominee in 2024 who is younger and more vibrant. “He just doesn’t seem like he’s doing anything,” she said of the president.

Newsom is nowhere on her list of possibilities.

Pruitt often visits Los Angeles for business — she sells vintage antiques in Las Vegas — and the state’s extended pandemic lockdown soured her on California’s governor.

“He really screwed over a lot of people,” said Pruitt, who is leaning toward Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an anti-vaccine activist mounting an independent — and decidedly long-shot — bid for the White House.

Courtney Pruitt of Las Vegas

Democrat Cindy Manchee thought Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, would make a fine replacement for Biden: “She’s middle of the road, she understands there needs to be give and take.” But, alas, Manchee lamented, it’s too late for that to happen.

The 65-year-old retiree moved to Henderson about 10 years ago from the San Francisco Bay Area. Manchee misses California; on a chilly afternoon she wore a blue fleece with “Monterey” stitched on the front.

But she doesn’t miss the taxes and high cost of California living, and considers Newsom too liberal to win the White House. Besides, Manchee said, “I don’t think he’s done that great a job” as governor.

Not surprisingly, Republicans had even less use for Newsom.

The sun was setting as Tim Foley stopped by the post office in Spring Valley, a multiracial community five miles west of the Las Vegas Strip, where earth-movers and other heavy equipment mark development’s relentless march through the desert.

Foley, 49, considers Biden “horrendous” but said Newsom was even worse.

“Biden’s not running the country,” said Foley, who owns a Las Vegas healthcare firm. “They parade him around and there’s a group of people who are making decisions for him. Newsom has his own ideas, which is scarier to me.”

There were a few fans of the governor.

One of them was Brian V., 41, who manages a chain retailer at an upscale Henderson shopping mall. (He declined to give his last name, to avoid hassle for sharing his political views.)

“I love Gavin Newsom,” Brian said during a vape-and-coffee break. “He’s young. He’s intelligent. He’s done a lot of great things for California.”

But that doesn’t mean he wants him to step in for Biden on the Democratic ticket.

“We’re already a little too late into that game,” Brian said. “We need to rally behind Joe Biden, get him reelected, so that we can stave off another four years of potentially going into a fascist state.”

A few shoppers trickled past, as Christmas music played from speakers tucked amid the palm trees and agave.

Maybe 2028 will be Newsom’s time. Maybe not.

“Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Gavin Newsom,” Brian said, ticking off the Democrats he might consider for president.

All sorts of choices. Just not now.