For a politician who insists that he has “sub-zero” interest in running for president, California Governor Gavin Newsom is working hard to heat up his national profile. In his latest bid for the national spotlight, last week, the slick haired, blue state Democrat squared off against his red state nemesis, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, in the Fox News Channel’s heavily promoted, “Great Red vs. Blue State Debate.” Newsom had been taunting the Republican presidential candidate for over a year to face him in a televised showdown. With no election of his own to lose and voter visibility to gain, Newsom slugged it out with DeSantis for 90 minutes in front of 4.75 million live television viewers with prime time star Sean Hannity moderating. The gambit worked.

The battle of the big state governors pulled in more than double the number of viewers for the cable news network’s two town halls featuring MAGA heavyweight Donald Trump. The elite glossy Vanity Fair pronounced Newsom the blowout winner, leaving DeSantis “completely and totally humiliated.” Even the conservative editors at National Review gave Newsom credit for “going on hostile turf to make his case.”

Last week’s slugfest wasn’t Newsom’s first foray onto the conservative media stage. Over the past year, the 56-year-old father of four who proudly boasts his “California values” has been making a point of venturing beyond friendly mainstream media venues. In June, Newsom sat down to spar with Hannity on Fox News for a full hour. In September, Newsom appeared again on the conservative network for post Republican primary debate analysis at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California. Newsom was ostensibly dispatched by the Biden reelection campaign to serve as their resident spin master. Newsom claimed to be “humbled and honored” by the role. In his two decades climbing the California political ladder, Newsom has been called many things. “Humble” is not among them.

Ever since he burst onto the political scene in 2004 as the youngest mayor of San Francisco in over a century, the Bay Area golden boy has been talked up as a presidential contender. As far back as his college days at Santa Clara University, his family broadcast their high hopes for the struggling student with a congratulatory message in his graduation year book cheering, “Gavinsy by George you did it! The next step the Presidency?”

Reportedly, Newsom resents accusations that he owes his meteoric rise to a privileged background. Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton calls the self-made millionaire “the living embodiment of privilege.” Raised by a single mother who worked as a legal secretary, waitress, bookkeeper, and realtor, the great grandson of Irish Catholic immigrants struggled with dyslexia and a severe lisp as a child. Newsom credits his dyslexia as “the greatest thing that ever happened to me.” It kept the telegenic striver away from teleprompters and, instead, reliant on his skills of memorization and debate.

Nevertheless, Newsom’s childhood unfolded in close proximity to California power. His father served as a legal and tax adviser to the family of billionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty and as an administrator to the Getty family trust. Newsom senior’s connections later helped propel his son into politics as the Getty family bankrolled Newsom’s business and political ventures.

Newsom may reject the privilege label, but even his political allies admit that the career politician struggles to connect. Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who gave Newsom his start on San Francisco’s Parking and Traffic Commission in 1996, says, “Gavin doesn’t exactly cultivate friendships.” A sympathetic 2021 profile in the New York Times concedes that, “The knock on him is that he’s all style, no substance — a guy who got where he is by looking like a politician rather than acting like a leader.” It goes on to describe Newsom as “handsome in a way that comes off as just a little too coifed, like the actor you’d cast to play a politician in a movie.” During an appearance on the late night political talk show, “The Colbert Report,” liberal host Stephen Colbert slammed Newsom for his pompous sloganeering, asking “Is there a bullshit translator? … What are you talking about?”

Newsom’s supporters acknowledge that Newsom often prefers big ideas over small details. In a lengthy 2018 profile in Cal Matters on the eve of Newsom’s first gubernatorial election, Stanford psychology professor and Newsom ally Keith Humphreys observed, “I think Gavin is happiest when he’s focused more on the big picture.” Bill Lee, who served as San Francisco’s administrator, described the politician as “more of a big picture guy,” telling the news outlet, “I never, ever…got a sense from Gavin about details.”

Details, however, almost led the the governor to being booted from office in 2021. Before he was handily reelected last year with nearly 60% of the vote in a state that leans Democrat two to one, Newsom faced the voters’ wrath over his now infamous French Laundry debacle. While Californians were required to adhere to stringent COVID lockdown rules, the governor was caught on camera hobnobbing, mask-free, at a lavish dinner party at the Michelin rated French Laundry, one of the most exclusive and expensive restaurants in the country. Only the second governor in California history to face a recall vote, Joseph Cotchett, an attorney and longtime friend of the Newsom family, says “it scared the shit out of him.” Newsom survived the recall effort by vigorously campaigning up and down America’s most populous state.

Some of those voters, however, have again turned against the Golden State culture warrior. While Newsom’s recent trips to China and Israel, along with his high profile crusade against red state “authoritarianism,” have won him national applause, voters at home are feeling neglected. According to a new UC Berkeley Institute of Government Studies survey, the governor’s approval ratings have sunk to an all time low, with 49% of registered voters disapproving of his job performance and just 44% expressing approval, down from 55% approval in February. The director of the poll explains that as Newsom turns his attention to the national stage, “not all Californians are on board with that. They’d rather stick to the job he was elected to do.” As a recent headline in the left leaning “The Atlantic” magazine puts it: “Gavin Newsom Is Not Governing.” And he most likely won’t until the Democratic convention in Chicago, next summer, when the party’s nominee is finally, definitively, well and truly decided.