NATIONAL NEWS

DeSantis and Newsom face off in a Fox News event featuring two governors with White House hopes

Nov 29, 2023, 9:16 PM

In this combination of photos, Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks o...

In this combination of photos, Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks on Sept. 16, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa, at left, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, speaks on Sept. 12, 2023, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two big-state governors with presidential ambitions, California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, met Thursday night for a prime-time faceoff that was expected to be filled with policy fights and personal insults.

The host, Fox News Channel, billed the 90-minute affair hosted by Sean Hannity as “The Great Red vs. Blue State Debate.” Yet it was held in a television studio with no audience in Georgia, a location chosen for its key swing-state implications in national politics. And it played out in the heart of presidential primary season with voters in both parties paying closer attention to their 2024 options heading into next fall’s general election.

As leaders of two of the three most populous states, DeSantis and Newsom have spent much of the past year poking each other’s policy choices and leadership style from afar. But on Thursday night, they were getting their first chance to challenge each other on the same national stage.

Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, aware that the unusual event was drawing national attention, unleashed a slew of fresh insults at DeSantis, one of his strongest Republican primary rivals, in a statement shortly before it began.

“Ron DeSanctimonious is acting more like a thirsty, third-rate OnlyFans wannabe model than an actual presidential candidate,” the Trump campaign wrote, using one of the many nicknames the former president has given his rival. “Instead of actually campaigning and trying to turn around his dismal poll numbers, DeSanctus is now so desperate for attention that he’s debating a Grade A loser like Gavin Newsom.”

DeSantis, a 45-year-old Republican governor elected to his second and final term last fall, is already actively running for president. But he has struggled for momentum in a 2024 campaign plagued by missteps in his bid to defeat Trump, who remains the overwhelming front-runner in the GOP primary.

Newsom, California’s 56-year-old term-limited Democratic governor, has positioned himself to seek the presidency someday, but like the rest of his party’s most ambitious leaders, he declined to challenge President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination in 2024. Instead, he’s emerged as a leading defender of Biden and a formal campaign adviser.

Ahead of the debate, Newsom sent out a message to supporters encouraging them to donate at least $10 to Biden’s reelection. “I want to tell Fox News viewers something they’ve never heard before… The truth about Joe Biden’s record,” he wrote. “But before I do — Joe Biden needs your help as well.”

Still, both Newsom and DeSantis saw Thursday night’s meeting as a real opportunity to strengthen their political standing in the short and longer term.

DeSantis’ allies have been talking up the event in recent days as a rare opportunity to prove his strength against one of the nation’s most prominent Democrats — a sharp contrast from recent Republican presidential debates where he’s struggled to break through on a stage where the candidates agree on most issues. And even some of DeSantis’ Republican rivals privately acknowledged he would likely raise a significant amount of money through online donations as a result of the appearance.

Meanwhile, Newsom, who, like DeSantis, will be out of a job come January 2027, has been eager to broaden his political profile ahead of a possible presidential bid in 2028 — or sooner, should the 81-year-old Biden unexpectedly drop out. Newsom has repeatedly shut down whispers about his interest in a 2024 bid.

But on Thursday, the California Democrat was speaking to a new set of voters on the conservative friendly Fox News, in line with his recent political strategy. In March, Newsom launched the “Campaign for Democracy” committee, which has allowed him to travel to red states that Democrats typically avoid. In recent months, he has visited Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, Utah and Florida.

Newsom has paid particular attention to Florida as DeSantis racked up conservative policy wins in recent years that pushed the purple state farther and farther to the right. In turn, DeSantis traveled to California earlier in the year and posted a video to social media highlighting drug use and homelessness in San Francisco, blaming the state’s “leftist policies.”

“Whether Newsom or Biden is the Democrat nominee in ’24, they both offer the same failed and dangerous ideology for America that helped get us in this mess,” DeSantis spokesperson Andrew Romeo posted on X, formerly Twitter. “We look forward to putting Ron DeSantis’ record of success up against it.”

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DeSantis and Newsom face off in a Fox News event featuring two governors with White House hopes