After a year of taunting and sniping, Republican presidential hopeful and right-wing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has agreed to meet California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom on the debate stage.
Fox News host Sean Hannity will moderate the live debate, pitched as a showdown of Red vs. Blue policies at the state level.
Hannity on Wednesday played a clip from his June interview with Newsom where the governor said he was “all in” to debate his Florida counterpart before cutting to a smiling DeSantis, who appeared remotely.
“Absolutely,” DeSantis said in response to the challenge. “I’m game. Let’s get it done. Just tell me when and where.”
After DeSantis’s “Hannity” appearance, a spokesperson for Newsom said the California governor already sent DeSantis a formal debate offer last Friday.
“DeSantis should put up or shut up,” the Newsom spokesperson said. “Anything else is just games.”
According to Newsom’s letter, he proposed a 90-minute debate moderated by Hannity and focused on “the impact of representation at the state level.” The Fox News-hosted event will have no live audience and will air live on Nov. 8 or 10 in a battleground state, either Georgia, Nevada or North Carolina.
The two governors have been locked in an escalating feud for the past year, taking shots at each other on topics such as immigration, abortion, gun rights and education, each portraying the policies and conditions in the other’s state as an indictment on their respective parties’ politics.
While President Biden, who is seeking reelection next year, has often tried to strike a tone of unity in a divided country, Newsom has emerged as a Democratic leader willing to take the fight for high-stakes policies such as abortion and LGBTQ+ rights to Republicans. He has openly expressed frustration that Republican leaders like DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have dominated the national discourse with their attacks on reproductive rights and education reform without a powerful rejoinder from liberals.
In June, he called DeSantis a “small, pathetic man” and suggested that the Florida governor ran afoul of kidnapping laws after a Florida official confirmed that the state had transported migrants from Texas to Sacramento — a move for which DeSantis’s administration later took credit.
Speaking to Hannity on Wednesday, DeSantis framed the forthcoming debate as already settled, citing Florida’s booming population as proof that citizens are “voting with their feet” and flocking to his state while fleeing from Newsom’s. In 2021, California lost a congressional seat for the first time in its history after population growth was outpaced by other states like Florida, Oregon and Texas. The state faced a steep population decline amid the coronavirus pandemic, due in part to migration from population hubs like San Francisco.
As a presidential contender, DeSantis is hoping to woo national voters with the promise he can export his vision of Florida to the rest of the country. The governor has highlighted Florida as a success story while contrasting it with states such as California — a state whose Democratic policies has made it overtaxed, lawless and on the decline due to “woke-ism being the law of the land,” according to an email the DeSantis campaign circulated to donors Thursday morning.
The DeSantis campaign did not directly respond to a question about criticisms that a debate with Newsom is a distraction from his more urgent task of competing against Biden and former president Donald Trump, and referred to the Thursday campaign email to supporters.
Both Newsom and DeSantis are term-limited from running for governor again and have been eyed by those in their party as presidential contenders in 2028.
Newsom, whom the Atlantic last year dubbed “The Democrats’ New Spokesman in the Culture Wars,” has sparked talk of a presidential run. Earlier this year, he formed a political group aimed at fighting “rising authoritarianism” in red states, though he said in June “not on God’s green earth” would he run against Biden in 2024.
Meanwhile, DeSantis’s presidential ambitions have faced an uphill climb: Early excitement after he announced his candidacy has since turned into his campaign struggling to find its footing as it has burned through campaign cash, laid off one-third of its staffers and fought to overtake the spotlight — and the affection of the conservative base — from Trump.
Should both governors keep their sights trained on 2028, the forthcoming Fox News debate could be the first of many times voters see DeSantis and Newsom go well-coiffed head to well-coiffed head. In one of his earliest challenges to debate DeSantis last year, Newsom via Twitter acknowledged one thing they each have in common: a reliance on hair products.
“I’ll bring my hair gel. You bring your hairspray,” Newsom wrote. “Name the time before Election Day.”