It’s a high-profile general election-style debate amid the presidential primary season, pitting two relatively young and very well-known governors of large states who have a knack for grabbing national attention.
Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom of California and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, who have been trading fire for nearly two years, will tangle once again on Thursday. But this time, their slugfest will be face-to-face in prime time.
DeSantis, who is running for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, and Newsom — who Republican critics charge is running a shadow campaign for the White House even though he repeatedly stomps on such speculation as ‘ridiculous’ — will face off in a debate moderated by Fox News opinion host Sean Hannity.
The showdown is titled ‘DeSantis vs. Newsom: The Great Red vs. Blue State Debate.’ It takes place in northern Georgia, in the booming city of Alpharetta, which is part of metropolitan Atlanta. Georgia, once a deep-red state, has become a top general election battleground between the two major political parties.
Even before their face-to-face meeting, verbal shots were already fired by the two contenders.
‘He caters to a very far-left slice of the electorate. I think that will be on display when we have the debate,’ DeSantis said as he spoke with Fox News Digital last week on the presidential campaign trail.
Newsom, in a recent appearance on Fox News’ ‘Hannity,’ said of DeSantis: ‘I don’t like people who demonize other people or go after vulnerable communities. I also don’t like liars.’
DeSantis, once the clear alternative to former President Trump in the 2024 GOP nomination race, has seen his standing erode over the summer and autumn. He’s currently battling with former U.N. Ambassador and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley for second place in the polls, far behind Trump, who remains the commanding Republican front-runner as he makes his third straight White House run.
Pundits see the ‘Hannity’ showdown as a possible breakout opportunity for DeSantis a week ahead of the fourth GOP presidential nomination debate. And the DeSantis campaign frames it as a potential general election preview.
Newsom is one of the most high-profile surrogates for President Biden, who’s running for a second term.
The 81-year-old president, saddled for more than two years with underwater approval ratings, has increasingly in recent months faced questions about his physical and cognitive ability to serve another four years in the White House. And Biden narrowly trails Trump in many of the most recent polls that look ahead to a likely 2024 general election matchup.
While Newsom has repeatedly shot down speculation that he would run for the White House next year should something happen to Biden, a well-publicized trip by the California governor to Israel and China last month sparked further buzz about his possible 2024 ambitions.
DeSantis, speaking with Fox News Digital, said, ‘I’ve been warning Republican voters … it may not be Biden in 2024.’
‘This guy is running a shadow campaign. He denies it, but even people in his own party are saying it,’ DeSantis said of Newsom. ‘You have [Vice President] Harris, you have a lot of these other people who could end up running in 2024 if Biden’s not able to do it. I think there’s a lot of people in the Democratic Party who do not want Biden to run. Ultimately, it’s going to be his decision, but I think there’s a lot of pressure there for him to take a step back.’
On the eve of the debate, DeSantis campaign manager James Uthmeier said that ‘as Democrats ramp up their efforts to replace the historically unpopular and failed Joe Biden as their nominee, Ron DeSantis’ showdown with Gavin Newsom is even more timely. A Newsom presidency would accelerate America’s decline, and Nov. 30 will be the first chance to expose to a national audience just how dangerous his radical ideology would be for the country.’
The DeSantis campaign argues that the debate ‘will be the first chance for Republicans to contrast our vision for the future of the country with the failed agenda of someone who very well could become the Democrats’ nominee.’
Newsom spokesperson Nathan Click told Fox News to expect the California governor ‘to defend the president and use the opportunity to take on the misinformation machine at its headwaters.’
Click said Newsom is under ‘no illusions — this is a 2-on-1 match with the refs in the tank for the home team. But Gov. Newsom has long believed that Democrats have to go on offense in enemy territory, and that’s exactly what he intends to do.’
But Hannity, despite his conservative bent, has pledged fairness to both Newsom and DeSantis in the debate.
Both governors have outsized national profiles, run the nation’s first- and third-most populous states, and overwhelmingly won gubernatorial reelections last year, when their rivalry really heated up.
In 2022, Newsom went up with an ad on Florida airwaves that targeted DeSantis’ culture war approach to politics and policies: ‘Freedom, it’s under attack in your state. Republican leaders, they’re banning books, making it harder to vote, restricting speech in classrooms, even criminalizing women and doctors,’ Newsom argued in his spot.
DeSantis, who became a hero to conservatives nationwide for his pushback against coronavirus pandemic restrictions, earlier this year called San Francisco — the city where Newsom once served two terms as mayor — a ‘dumpster fire.’
The governors — who’ve long battled on social media over their very different COVID policies — this year have traded fire over the move by DeSantis to fly migrants to California. The Florida governor has made border security a top issue in recent years and has repeatedly highlighted his efforts on the 2024 Republican presidential campaign trail.
Earlier this month, a Newsom-aligned political group started running an ad on Fox News’ ‘Hannity’ that slammed DeSantis over the six-week abortion ban in Florida that he signed into law earlier this year.
Longtime Republican strategist and communicator Ryan Williams suggests the debate could be a win for both DeSantis and Newsom.
‘They’re perfect foils for one another. They both lead some of the biggest states in the country. They both have very prominent roles in their respective parties, and they both love attention,’ Williams told Fox News.
Williams, a veteran of numerous presidential and statewide campaigns, noted that ‘it’s in their best interests to attack one another. It gets both of their bases riled up. And it gives them a national platform to fight with each other.’
Fox News’ Joseph Wulfsohn contributed to this report.