Newsom-DeSantis debate is more than a kayfabe


The debate between California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is just around the corner. The pair will meet on Thursday in Alpharetta, Ga. at an event moderated by Fox News host Sean Hannity. While Hannity has pitched the intellectual duel as a battle of ideologies, it appears DeSantis is hoping to use the debate as a springboard for the upcoming Iowa presidential caucus. 

Both DeSantis and Newsom may also be trying to curry favor amongst their base: New polling this month found that the two governors have seen upticks in disapproval from their constituencies. 

“We feel like it’s a great chance to showcase why the governor is the best candidate to beat the Democrats in November regardless of who they put up, Joe Biden or Gavin Newsom,” a DeSantis insider told Politico. 

Case in point, it’s hard not to imagine that Newsom is also thinking about raising his national profile. Considering the circumstances (Hannity certainly favors DeSantis,) Newsom may want to present himself as being able to take on opponents with the odds stacked against him. The potential 2028 candidate is under “no illusions”: This is a 2-on-1 match with the refs in the tank for the home team. But Newsom has long believed that Democrats have to go on offense in enemy territory, and that’s exactly what he intends to do,” a Newsom spokesperson said. 

However, the California governor — who in his words is “termed out” — has been cagey on the actual reality of his presidential run in 208. And, as the DeSantis team has hinted, speculation that Newsom could fill in for Biden in 2024 is clearly not out of the question. 

This will not be the first time Newsom has gone into enemy territory: Over the past year, Newsom has made multiple appearances on Hannity’s program to discuss everything from the economic integrity of liberal states to the immigration policy of President Joe Biden.  

The exact nature and parameters of the debate has yet to be relieved, but expect each competitor's respective states to serve as surrogates for the broader Red-Blue conflict that has embroiled the country over the past two decades. 

If anything, the debate could serve as a preview for the upcoming presidential debates — now officially scheduled and less than a year away — that will most likely be a rematch between Biden and former President Donald Trump. Topics such as the country’s relationship to China, climate policy, economic progress, education and domestic social relations will almost certainly be key discussions for both the DeSantis-Newsom debate and the future presidential debates. 

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Jamie Larson