CV NEWS FEED // Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom squared off in a Thursday night FOX News debate moderated by Sean Hannity.
On the debate stage in Alpharetta, Georgia, DeSantis came out swinging, blasting Newsom for California’s population decline and his hypocrisy during the COVID pandemic.
“He’s the first governor to ever lose population,” DeSantis said of the California governor. “They actually at one point ran out of U-Hauls in the state of California because so many people were leaving.”
“Of course he’s imposed restrictions on his own people, while exempting himself from those restrictions and going to the French Laundry while his people were suffering,” the Florida governor continued. “He led the country in school closures, locking kids out of school while he had his own kids in private schools in person.”
“Newsom claims more people are moving to California than Florida,” said Rep. Kevin Kiley, R-CA, who fact-checked his governor on X (formerly Twitter) throughout the debate.
“Completely false,” the congressman wrote. “Between 2019 and 2022, 1,044,494 people left California while 737,433 people moved to Florida.”
DeSantis spoke at length about one man in particular “who had made the move from California to Florida.”
“He was telling me that Florida is much better governed, safer, better budget, lower taxes. And he’s really happy with the quality of life,” DeSantis said. “And then he paused and he said, ‘By the way, I’m Gavin Newsom’s father-in-law,’” DeSantis added, revealing the man’s identity.
Newsom did not seem primarily concerned with making the case for his state.
“I’m here to tell the truth about the Biden-Harris record,” he said. “And also compare and contrast Ron DeSantis’ record and the Republican Party’s record as a point of contrast that’s as different as daylight and darkness.”
Newsom also claimed that DeSantis wanted to “bring us back to a pre-1960’s world.”
The Florida governor jumped on Newsom’s stance as a staunch defender of the increasingly unpopular president.
“He’s joined at the hip with Biden and Harris,” DeSantis remarked. “He thinks Biden and Harris have done a great job. He thinks the economy is working.”
“What California represents is the Biden-Harris agenda on steroids,” he emphasized.
“Newsom would rather talk about Joe Biden’s record than his own,” observed journalist Stephen L. Miller.
Later in the debate, Hannity asked both governors to give the incumbent president a grade. Newsom gave Biden an “A” while DeSantis gave him a failing mark.
DeSantis also hit Newsom on the topic of immigration. “This is a guy that says the Biden administration is not lying to the public about the border.”
“They are lying to you,” he said, adding that California is a “sanctuary state” for migrants.
The Florida governor also took aim at California’s rampant crime rate, saying the state has “basically legalized retail theft.”
“They have chosen in California to put the interests of the criminals over public safety,” he continued:
What California wants to do is they want to make it harder for law-abiding citizens to defend themselves, then they go easy on the criminals who are perpetrating the crime. They don’t stand up for the men and women of law enforcement. That’s why a lot of people have left the state, because they don’t get the support from the communities that they need.
Newsom attacked DeSantis for his successful efforts to remove pornographic material from Florida schools, which the California governor described as “book-banning.”
“You’re using education as a sword for your cultural purge,” said Newsom.
The moderator, Hannity, then listed some of the explicit books Florida has removed from school libraries, including “Gender Queer,” which contains an illustrated scene in which a minor graphically fantasizes about being molested by an adult.
Newsom claimed these deeply controversial books are “not part of the curriculum” and stated that he found it “offensive” that a “significant number” of them contained LGBTQ themes. He also claimed that “California supports parents’ rights.”
To this, DeSantis replied:
If you’re a parent in Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina, your minor child can go to California without your knowledge or without your consent and get hormone therapy, puberty blockers, and a sex change operation.
“How in the heck is that honoring parents’ rights?” he asked.
Finally, Newsom attacked DeSantis’ pro-life stance.
“Ron DeSantis signed the most extreme anti-abortion bills in America,” Newsom said. He claimed Florida’s pro-life “heartbeat law” is so radical that “even Donald Trump says it’s too extreme.”
“I believe in a culture of life,” the Florida governor fired back. “I think we’re better off when everybody counts, when everybody has an opportunity to do well.”
DeSantis cited the inspirational story of Penny Hopper, a Florida woman who was a survivor of a failed late-term abortion. “She counts and she matters,” he said.
“I think that the position that we have from the modern left, including in California, is that they will take your tax dollars, and they will fund abortion all the way to the moment of birth,” DeSantis added.
Many observers agreed that Newsom turned in a poor performance across the board.
“The thing is, Newsom demanded this debate. For months. And now he has it,” wrote political consultant Ellen Carmichael on X during the debate. “And he’s getting destroyed.”
“I’m into mixed martial arts and anybody that steps into the octagon, I have deep respect for because you’re stepping into a war,” Hannity told POLITICO days before the debate commenced.
“This is one of those moments where you have two heavyweights in the political arena that are gonna have an opportunity to go head to head and talk about substantive, real issues and governing philosophies that affect everyone’s lives,” he continued.
While “The Great Red vs. Blue State Debate” was first announced in September, the rivalry between the two governors had been heating up for over a year.
On July 4, 2022, Newsom ran a heavily criticized ad in Florida media markets.
“Freedom, it’s under attack in your state,” the California governor said in the 30-second clip. “Republican leaders, they’re banning books, making it harder to vote, restricting speech in classrooms, even criminalizing women and doctors.”
Later in the ad, he urged Floridians to “join us in California, where we still believe in freedom — freedom of speech, freedom to choose, freedom from hate and the freedom to love.”
While both governors won re-election four months later, DeSantis unexpectedly won by a margin (19.4%) of one full percentage point more than Newsom’s margin of victory (18.4%).
California is the most populous state in the country while Florida surpassed New York as the third-most-populated about a decade ago. However, while Florida has been growing at an astronomical rate, California reportedly lost a half-million residents from the 2020 census to early this year. Like Newsom’s own in-laws, many of those leaving California have moved to Florida.
Following the census, Florida gained one more House seat while California lost a seat for the first time in history.
Earlier on the day of the debate, former California Republican candidate Ron Bassilian took to X to remark on the diametrically different population changes in the two states.
“Newsom loves DeSantis so much he gave him a congressman,” he wrote.