5 things to watch in the DeSantis-Newsom debate on Fox

5 things to watch in the DeSantis-Newsom debate on Fox
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) are set to meet Thursday in a climatic debate following a growing rivalry between the two that has lasted months.

DeSantis and Newsom will take the stage together for a 90-minute debate titled “DeSantis vs. Newsom: The Great Red vs. Blue State Debate,” moderated by Fox News host Sean Hannity and airing starting at 9 p.m. With both men emerging as top figures within their parties on the national level, the event could be an opportunity for them to give a boost to their respective political careers.

Here’s what to watch for in the long-awaited DeSantis-Newsom debate:

How big are the fireworks?

Momentum has been building for two of the country’s most prominent governors to face off for more than a year.

Since Newsom first challenged DeSantis to a debate back in September 2022, the attacks have grown only more personal. Newsom has called DeSantis a “small, pathetic man,” while the Florida governor has argued that people are “fleeing” California because of Newsom’s administration.

All the predebate bad blood could lead to explosive arguments throughout the night over intense disagreements on major issues facing each state and the country.

Sean Hannity, a firebrand conservative pundit who makes attacking Democrats like Newsom a staple of his nightly opinion show on Fox, could throw even more fuel on the fire.

The network has said Hannity’s questions will “highlight a variety of issues in each state, including the economy, the border, immigration, crime, and inflation,” so which issues get the most focus could play a major role in who ends up walking away looking better.

The absence of a live studio audience could, however, quell some of the arguing and interruptions that are a hallmark of primary and general election debates.

Does Florida or California come away looking stronger?

DeSantis and Newsom have clashed on multiple occasions over the past year, criticizing each other for various policies they have implemented during their administrations.

Both have heralded their states and their policies as providing freedom to their residents but through different methods.

Before challenging DeSantis to the debate, Newsom ran ads in Florida slamming the state’s governor and Republican state legislators over multiple pieces of approved legislation affecting LGBTQ rights, voting rights, abortion and education. The ad called on Floridians who oppose the state’s direction under DeSantis to consider moving to California.

“I urge all of you who live in Florida to join the fight, or join us in California, where we still believe in freedom, freedom of speech, freedom to choose, freedom from hate and the freedom to love,” Newsom said. “Don’t let them take your freedom.”


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The feud continued into this year, with DeSantis sending additional rounds of migrants to Democratic-run cities, including Sacramento. Newsom said the state would investigate and possibly issue criminal charges against those involved for alleged kidnapping.

DeSantis has also slammed the “woke” ideology of California, alleging that Californians are leaving Newsom’s state to come to the “freedom” of Florida. He said Newsom’s “failed policies” are to blame.

The debate offers the two governors their clearest opportunity yet to make the case that their respective state is better governed and more desirable for Americans.

Can DeSantis notch a big moment?

Thursday night’s debate comes amid the GOP presidential race for DeSantis, who is trying to position himself as the main Republican alternative to former President Trump for the party’s nomination.

The governor had for months been the clear second-place finisher in polling of the GOP field and at one time was close behind Trump in a head-to-head match-up. But the gap between the two has grown as former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley has risen in popularity.

DeSantis has already participated in three Republican primary debates so far and will take part in a fourth next week, but he has often been overshadowed by his rivals on stage.

Thursday night’s event could give him a prime opportunity to get the headline-worthy moments his campaign is desperately in need of, while also offering him his best chance yet to position himself as the champion of conservative values to a national audience.

Will Newsom score points for Biden?

Newsom’s presidential ambitions have spurred speculation for months.

And while the California Democrat has ruled out a primary challenge to President Biden in 2024, Thursday night’s debate will be an opportunity for him to show his aptitude in dealing with attacks from a leading member of the opposition party on the national stage.

It will be notable how much time Newsom, who has acted as a surrogate for Biden in the spin room during this year’s GOP primary debates, spends defending the president and the Democratic agenda from what will likely be frequent attacks by DeSantis.

The blue state governor has shown deft media skills during his political rise. He has not shied away from “going on offense” against the conservative media apparatus that has boosted the likes of DeSantis and former President Trump for the last several election cycles, while still appearing with some regularity on the same channels he often decries.

How often Newsom acts as Biden’s cheerleader and when he takes an opportunity to instead promote his own accomplishments in California could provide a clearer picture of both his long-term political aspirations and how he views his chances of perhaps being the party’s nominee for president one day.

How many people will watch?

For the last several years, there has been no larger driver of ratings and content for cable news channels than former President Trump.

Without both Trump and Biden at Thursday night’s event, the debate will test how much interest a clash between two candidates who aren’t the front-runners for their respective parties can generate.

With Trump sitting out the first three GOP primary debates, ratings for each primary debate have steadily tapered this year.

As a result, media and political observers will likely be interested to see how many viewers Fox, the routinely top-rated channel on cable, can net with its one-of-a-kind DeSantis-vs.-Newsom debate.

Nielsen Media Research data suggests Democrat-vs.-Republican debates, such as the clashes between Trump and Biden in 2020, drive much larger audiences than primary debates in recent election cycles.

But with Newsom not a declared candidate for president, and DeSantis looking to spark as much momentum as he can heading into the Iowa caucuses, Thursday night’s event will afford both men a unique chance to command a sizeable weeknight audience all to their own.

Updated: 3:36 p.m.

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