SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Governor Gavin Newsom is in the midst of his re-election campaign, and yet in recent months -- with his tweets calling out red state governors and his TV ads airing in Texas and Florida -- it's felt less like he's running for statewide office and more like he's eyeing a presidential run.
His decision on Monday to veto a bill that would have legalized safe injection sites in some California cities also added to the speculation Newsom may be contemplating higher office.
"I don't think it's unusual that the California governor would be making moves that would suggest he may run for national office," political strategist Rob Stutzman told ABC7 News. "Every California governor, more or less, at some point envisions themselves in the oval office."
Joseph Cotchett, a top Democratic donor and longtime friend of the governor and President Biden, told ABC7 News he believes Newsom is setting himself up to run for president if Biden does not seek re-election.
"There's absolutely no question in my mind from what I know about him, and I may be wrong, that he will run for president," Cotchett said.
Governor Newsom has repeatedly denied he is setting himself up to run for president. He recently told the San Francisco Chronicle he has "sub-zero interest" in running.
"He may have a sub-zero interest in it now, but not if Joe Biden says I'm not going to run," he said. "If that comes out, he will move forward very fast."
Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown said he believes Biden will run for re-election and would not speculate about Newsom's bigger ambitions if he doesn't.
"I want Biden to run. I don't want him to become comfortable that he could even consider not running," Brown told ABC7 News. "I think Joe Biden should keep on being the president as long as he physically can."
Still, a recent poll from the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies shows a majority of Californians prefer Biden not seek a second term. The poll shows Newsom tops the list of potential replacements, along with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Vice President Kamala Harris is third.
"We know from polling out this week," Stutzman said of Newsom, "That he's more popular than the Vice President here in California."
"Now one of the problems with that metric is the path to the Democratic nomination isn't just California," he added. "But what does become the more interesting dynamic is essentially would he be willing to leapfrog over her, if you will -- and if it's an open seat -- and basically contest with her for the same donor base out here in California."
Brown said despite Harris' low approval ratings, voters should not rule her out as a viable candidate.
"I wouldn't dare count her out and anyone who does is making a mistake," he said.
Stutzman said Newsom's decision this week to veto SB57 -- which would have allowed for open drug use at safe injection sites in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles -- may have been a move that was part policy and part politics.
"He signs that bill and it just feeds a caricature of what the rest of the country thinks of California," he explained. "So you start talking about a general election and real swing states in this country, and that could have been a real liability for him if he were to advance to that stage of the electoral process."