California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis turned their feud over blue and red state policies personal Thursday, clashing for more than 90 minutes over crime, taxes, COVID-19 pandemic policies, immigration, book bans and other divisive issues in an unorthodox debate that both men hoped would propel their national political ambitions.

California has “failed because of his leftist ideology,” DeSantis said of Newsom, whom he called a “slick politician.”

“There’s one thing … that we have in common,” Newsom said. “Neither of us will be the nominee for our party in 2024.”

The forum in Georgia between the liberal Democrat and the conservative Republican, hosted by Sean Hannity on Fox News, culminated months of shadow boxing between the two governors, who have used their states’ opposing partisan approaches to governing to attack each other.

Newsom was on the defensive for much of the debate as Hannity focused on taxes, crime, late-term abortions, California’s high gas prices and other topics on which conservatives believe they have the upper hand politically. Newsom responded by ignoring or reframing many of the questions.

DeSantis, who has seen his once-promising presidential campaign sag, recognized an opportunity to take down the leader of the most prominent Democratic-led state, which he attacked as a bastion of unhinged progressive policies that have led to lawlessness and mass departures.

Newsom, who may run for president in 2028, saw an opportunity to cement his reputation as a warrior for Democratic values, unafraid of Fox News and Republicans, as he savaged DeSantis’ vision of freedom as phony in a state where books are banned and abortion rights are curtailed.

The risks for both men were clear. Some viewers may see the obvious downgrade in DeSantis’ campaign as he battles a governor who is not running for president, instead of former President Trump, the overwhelming favorite to win the GOP nomination, or President Biden, the man he hopes to ultimately unseat. Newsom could come off as too eager for attention and overconfident in believing he could dispatch DeSantis, who came well prepared, in a debate moderated by Hannity.

It’s unclear whether Thursday’s debate will change minds on policy. But viewers got a clear contrast in a nation where differences are more often being played out in the states, which are increasingly dominated by a single party.



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