Gavin Newsom and Ron DeSantis finally face off in debate on Fox News

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It’s finally happening: After years of sparring on social media, expensive attack ads, and public digs about each other’s hair care products, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Florida Gov. and 2024 presidential candidate Ron DeSantis are meeting face-to-face Thursday night. The long-awaited debate will be moderated by Fox News conservative commentator Sean Hannity.

The match, agreed to back in September, is being closely watched on multiple levels. The two governors, leaders of populous coastal states with opposing politics, could well be previewing a future encounter in a presidential race.

For Republican DeSantis, trailing former President Donald Trump badly in polls, it is a chance to move the needle on his candidacy ahead of the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses. For Newsom, a Democrat, it is 90 minutes on the kind of big national stage that he relishes and, more importantly, a chance to make the case for President Joe Biden’s re-election next year.

Follow along with The Bee’s Jenavieve Hatch and Lindsey Holden for live updates.

Newsom tries to finish on a nice note

7:48 p.m. — Newsom and DeSantis teased extending the debate, but they ultimately wrapped their face-off shortly after 7:30 p.m.

The California governor tried to play nice with his closing moments.

“There is a unity frame here,” Newsom said. “I have no doubt Ron DeSantis loves this country. We’re all better off when we’re all better off.” -- Lindsey Holden

DeSantis’ favorite place in California is...

7:39 p.m. Coronado Beach in San Diego. -- Jenavieve Hatch

Israel has ‘every right to defend itself’

7:30 p.m. — When asked about the Israel-Gaza war, the two candidates were more aligned than on any other issue of the night.

Answering first, Newsom boasted about his trip to Israel in October.

“This is not complicated to me,” he said. “This is a fight between good and evil. Hamas is a terrorist organization and they must be defeated.”

DeSantis said “Israel has every right to defend itself,” and that the Biden Administration “should not be kneecapping them in any shape or form.”

Neither candidate mentioned the loss of Palestinian lives. -- Jenavieve Hatch

San Francisco poop map?

7:38 p.m. — Hannity brings up homelessness. After some almost unintelligible cross-talk and arguing over freedom, Newsom said California homelessness has been “decades in the making.”

He said he is the first governor to address homelessness “head-on” and touted recently-released data showing California has cleaned up almost 6,000 encampments. Newsom also cited recent efforts at behavioral health care reforms.

DeSantis held up a map allegedly showing the location of human feces in San Francisco. He said the city cleaned up its streets only for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

“They’re willing to do it for a communist dictator, but they’re not willing to do it for their own people,” DeSantis said. --Lindsey Holden

California’s ‘freedoms’

7:27 p.m. — When asked why Florida has less of a homelessness problem than California, DeSantis said the crisis is due to “California “adopting leftist policies.”

California does have freedoms, though, he said, but “not the freedoms our founding gathers envision.”

“The freedom to defecate in public,” he said sarcastically. “Freedom to pitch a tent, create a homeless encampment under a freeway ... to create an open air drug market.” -- Jenavieve Hatch

President Newsom?

7:23 p.m. — Hannity asks Newsom if he will say “unequivocally” that he won’t run for president in 2024.

Newsom said he is absolutely not running: “I don’t know how many times I can say this.” He said critics are making things up about a “shadow campaign.”

Newsom said Biden will become the presidential nominee in a matter of weeks. Biden will be elected and Trump will be rejected, he said.

Hannity asked if Newsom would stand by his statement, even if Biden goes into cognitive decline. Biden is doing great as president, Newsom replied.

If Newsom became the Democratic nominee, the country would see California and its decline as an indicator of the kind of president he would be, DeSantis said. -- Lindsey Holden

Lightning Round

7:14 p.m. — Hannity asked each participant three lightning round questions.

First: What grade do DeSantis and Newsom give Biden’s presidency? Predictably, they gave an F and an A, respectively.

The second was whether BIden’s policies are helping or hurting their respective states. Again, predictably, DeSantis answered with “hurting” and Newsom answered with an “unequivocal yes,” Biden’s policies are helping California.

Finally, Hannity asked if each governor is concerned about what he described as Biden’s cognitive decline.

“Yes it’s a danger,” DeSantis said. “He has no business running the country.”

Newsom said he’d take Joe Biden “at 100” before he’d take a President Ron DeSantis. -- Jenavieve Hatch

‘Shame on you’

7:10pm — DeSantis misspronounced Harris’ name, Ka-MAH-la, rather than Kam-ah-la.

“Shame on you for mispronouncing Kamala’s name,” Newsom said, while DeSantis continued talking loudly.

“Stop insulting her.” -- Jenavieve Hatch

Book-banning binge?

7:05 p.m. — Newsom accuses DeSantis of going on a “book-banning binge.” He said California schools do not use the books DeSantis and Hannity referenced in their K-5 curriculum. Most of the books DeSantis has banned deal with African Americans and LGBTQ people, he said.

“This is a ginned-up, made-up issue to divide this country,” Newsom said.

DeSantis responded by claiming transgender children from other states can go to California to receive gender-affirming care without their parents’ permission.

“That is radical, that is an assault on parents’ rights,” he said. --Lindsey Holden

Show-and-tell for parents’ rights

7:00 p.m. — “The role of school is to educate kids, not indoctrinate kids,” DeSantis said, before defending parents’ rights and attacking LGBTQ-related books.

“It’s inappropriate to tell a second grader they were born in the wrong body,” he said. “It’s important to respect parental rights to know what curriculum is being used.”

He then brought out the book Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe.

“This is pornography,” he said. “This should not be in schools. This is not age-appropriate. We’re going to stand for the rights of parents.” -- Jenavieve Hatch

Public safety back-and-forth

6:53 p.m. — Newsom and DeSantis duked it out over gun control laws and crime. DeSantis claimed California gun laws are making it harder for residents to defend themselves. He said the state is going on an “ideological joyride” around crime.

Women going shopping must remove their jewelry or risk having it stolen, he said.

“Common sense gun safety laws save lives,” Newsom said.

California is proud to lead on gun control laws, he said, and Florida actually has a higher murder rate.

“With all due respect, look at your own backyard, Ron,” Newsom repeated. --Lindsey Holden

Debate playbook: Interrupt!

6:51 p.m. — Just before the third commercial break, the two governors continued to interrupt one another to the point of making it impossible to understand what they were saying. One comment from DeSantis landed: “I know you like to jabber, I know you like to lie,” he told Newsom. -- Jenavieve Hatch

Mass shooting survivors ‘pleaded’ with DeSantis after school shooting

6:50 p.m. — In a debate about crime statistics, Newsom brought up the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

“Look at your own back yard,” Newsom said. Parents of shooting victims “pleaded” with DeSantis. Newsom called him “Weak, pathetic, small.” -- Jenavieve Hatch

DeSantis, Hannity hit Newsom on Biden immigration policy

6:45 p.m. — Hannity displayed a slide showing border patrol encounters with immigrants from Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran and other countries. He asked whether President Joe Biden’s “open border” policy will allow in terrorists and people wishing to harm the United States.

DeSantis said Biden’s policies are allowing drugs like fentanyl into the country. Newsom, in the position of defending Biden, said he is in favor of border security, in fact he is the only border state governor at the debate.

He said he wants to create substantive immigration reform, unlike Republicans.

DeSantis: “You’re making things up.” --Lindsey Holden

Newsom says DeSantis used immigrants ‘as pawns’

6:33 p.m. — When asked about whether or not Newsom supports Biden’s immigration policies, Newsom said he did. But said that DeSantis’ “gamesmanship” with immigrants is “disqualifying” after the Florida governor sent two planes with immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard. -- Jenavieve Hatch

Hannity doesn’t want to play ‘hall monitor’

6:29 p.m. — There has been lots of cross-talk and bickering, so far. Just before the commercial break, Hannity warned DeSantis and Newsom to limit the fighting because he doesn’t want to play “hall monitor.” -- Lindsey Holden

Newsom swings for Biden and Harris

6:19 p.m. — Newsom started the debate by immediately putting his support behind President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

“I’m here to tell the truth about the Biden-Harris record,” he said.

“I’ll give Gavin credit,” said DeSantis. “He’s joined at the hip with Biden and Harris.”

“Is Joe Biden paying you?” Hannity later asked Newsom as the governors debated the merits of Bidenomics.

California exodus?

6:05 p.m. — Hannity and DeSantis come out of the gates with the oft-cited claim that California is losing population to Florida.

DeSantis said California ran out of U-Haul trucks, because so many people were leaving. We found this to be largely true in a fact check last year. The state did experience a “shortage of available one-way trucks and trailers for outbound moves at times during 2020 and 2021 in California and other West Coast locations.”

Newsom would not explain the migration, other than saying more Floridians have come to California during the last two years.

However, census data shows more Californians left the state for Florida in 2022 than any year going back to 2005.

Trump campaign weighs in: Ron ‘DeSanctimonious’ is ‘desperate’

5:11 p.m. — Three hours before the debate, Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung posted a bizarre statement on behalf of Trump’s presidential campaign on X, formerly known as Twitter. Cheung called DeSantis (who he refers to as “DeSanctimonious” and “DeSanctus”) “desperate for attention.” That’s the kind part.