Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom face-off as Fox News hosts big state debate
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gaivn Newsom hype up excitement for ‘slugfest’ debate hosted by Sean Hannity.
On Thursday night, the Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, who is a hard-right hopeful for the Republican presidential nomination, will face off in a debate in Alpharetta, Georgia.
But he will not be debating Donald Trump, the former president and clear leader in the polls, or Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina who has risen to second place. Nor will he be debating any other Republican.
His rival will be Gavin Newsom, the California governor, a Democrat who is not running for his party’s nomination in 2024, since Joe Biden is in the White House and plans to serve a full second term.
"don’t like liars”
The debate, which Fox News calls a “slugfest”, will be hosted by Sean Hannity. The prime-time host and prime “culture war” fighter, who is close to Trump, has branded his project without Trump as The Great Red vs Blue State Debate. As such, the two governors have tried to hype up some excitement for the event.
DeSantis said to Fox that his opponent “caters to a very far-left slice of the electorate. I think that will be on display.”
Newsom said to Hannity, “I don’t like people who demonise other people or go after vulnerable communities. I also don’t like liars.”
Florida and California are two of the most populous states, with a lot of electoral college votes. But neither is expected to be a swing state in 2024.
California used to be governed by Republicans – most notably Ronald Reagan, most recently Arnold Schwarzenegger – but has turned solidly Democratic.
Florida used to be a toss-up state – the site of the tight, election-deciding race between George W Bush and Al Gore in 2000 – but has become more Republican.
The debate also poses political risks for both governors
DeSantis, who was once Trump’s closest rival but now trails him in the polls, may look like he is craving attention – and, perhaps, as small. Reports suggest that he wears shoe lifts, and when the 5ft 11in governor meets his 6ft 3in opponent, they will engage in both greetings and confrontations.
While appearance isn't everything in life, it has frequently held significant sway—from Richard Nixon's stubble and perspiration juxtaposed with JFK in 1960 to Donald Trump's unpredictable demeanor against Biden six decades later, it often plays a crucial role.
Newsom may raise questions about what he is really up to, given that Biden is in the White House but also that polls consistently show voters think the president is too old for a second term, sparking rumours about whether he might step down. At 56, Newsom is 25 years younger than Biden. Of course, that probably means his actual goal is 2028, and the first primary after Biden.
Sidney Blumenthal, a former aide to Bill and Hillary Clinton and now a Guardian columnist, said, “Newsom’s looking to 2028 and DeSantis is already politically dead.
“I don’t know that Newsom can perform a Lazarus-like miracle for DeSantis. The more useful debate would be between DeSantis and Dean Phillips” – the Minnesota congressman who has started a quixotic, long-shot bid to oust Biden.
“They both exist in the political twilight zone.”
Rick Wilson, a former Republican operative and co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, said Fox News’s Great Red vs Blue State Debate would likely be nothing more than a spectacle.
“Both men are engaged in purely performative politics,” Wilson said.
“Neither has a practical goal in mind but both are hungry for attention.”
Wilson said that the reason for the debate between DeSantis and Newsom was “the Fox News ecosystem’s desire to portray California as the liberal hellhole of their fervid nightmares”.