SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (AP) — California Gov. Gavin Newsom offered a forceful defense of embattled President Joe Biden on Thursday, telling Democrats in Michigan that the 81-year-old president has the record and energy to win a second term despite widespread doubts about his ability to campaign or govern effectively.

Newsom’s pitch at a local Independence Day picnic is part of an effort from Biden’s reelection campaign and the White House to reassure party activists and the broader electorate that Biden is up to job after he appeared addled 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, turning their attention to the prospects of another Trump presidency. “What I need to convince you of is not to be fatalistic, not to fall prey to all of this negativity. ... Do more. Worry less.”

Newsom's plea highlights the tenuous balance for Democrats and party lieutenants like the 56-year-old governor: He has long been a top Biden campaign surrogate and was among the governors who rallied behind the president after a private White House session on Wednesday. Yet Newsom himself is among those mentioned as potential replacements should Biden step aside and allow an open convention when Democratic delegates convene in Chicago next month.

The governor sidestepped questions about those potential outcomes, including a question about whether he would support Vice President Kamala Harris, a fellow Californian, for the nomination if Biden leaves the race.

“I don’t even like playing in the hypotheticals, because last night was about sort of locking down any doubt or ambiguity,” he said, referring to Biden's session with Democratic governors. “And then we start running in different directions, zigging and zagging and all that kind of speculation. And that gets in the way of progress.”

Newsom acknowledged “a tough few weeks” during his remarks to picnic attendees, and he admitted he had to scrap his planned talking points when facing reporters in Atlanta after the debate. But he said Biden reassured him and other Democratic governors Wednesday at the White House, where the president acknowledged his flop but expressed determination to win his rematch with Trump.

“That was the Joe Biden I remember from two weeks ago. That was the Joe Biden that I remember from two years ago,” Newsom said. “That’s the Joe Biden that I’m looking forward to reelecting as president of the United States, and I mean that.”

According to three people familiar with the meeting, Biden acknowledged to the governors that he needs to get more sleep and limit evening events so he can turn in earlier and be fit for the job. The sources spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Newsom did not address those explanations during his 15-minute remarks. He told reporters afterward that Biden referenced late nights “with a smile on his face.”

“It was more of a rhetorical framework of just being fit and rested, because he was burning it at both ends that last last ten or so days (before the debate), and I think that was what he was reflecting,” Newsom said. “It wasn’t a literal ‘at 8 o’clock I will be doing things differently,’ it was more figurative.’”

Newsom said it's okay when a “president acknowledges they’re human” and added that people are “reading between the lines too much” on what Biden said about his schedule.

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

“I just was so encouraged by his optimism and speaking genuinely from his heart,” she said. “Which reminds me a lot of the character of Joe Biden.”

Despite the governor's confidence, leading Democrats remain concerned about whether Biden can rebound politically. The president's aides and allies agree that the coming days are critical, with Biden planning a visible, busy schedule that could stem any free fall in public confidence — or further solidify voter concerns that he is too old for another term.

Biden is scheduled to campaign Friday in Wisconsin, a key battleground that he won in 2020, and sit for an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. It will air as a prime-time special that night. He plans Sunday to be in Philadelphia and hold a full news conference during the NATO summit in Washington next week.

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

Newsom echoed that framing in Michigan, urging party faithful to embrace Biden's record and values. He noted sustained low unemployment, rising wages and major legislation for infrastructure spending, addressing climate change and spurring American manufacturing, especially computer chips.

“I believe in this man. I believe in his character. I believe that he has been one of the most transformative presidents in our collective lifetimes,” Newsom said. “We’re so good at focusing on what’s wrong and not celebrating what’s right.” ——

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