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Takeaways from the DeSantis-Newsom debate, which aired on Fox

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Georgia last night played host to an unusual debate between one governor who's also a presidential candidate and another governor who people think could be one.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Yeah, it was between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who's running for the Republican presidential nomination, and California's Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom. Fox News billed this as a red state-blue state debate, which was not subtle at all. There was a background of blue for Newsom and a background of red for DeSantis. The debate was hosted by Sean Hannity.

FADEL: Here now to fill us in is NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Hi, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: Good morning. So tell us what happened and why did it even happen in the first place?

MONTANARO: (Laughter) Well, you know, these are two guys who really like the spotlight a lot, but it was DeSantis who really had a lot more on the line here because he's the one actually running for president right now. That's a point Newsom made early and often.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GAVIN NEWSOM: There are profound differences tonight, and I look forward to engage them. But there's one thing, in closing, that we have in common, is neither of us will be the nominee for our party in 2024.

MONTANARO: And, you know, Newsom was happy to needle DeSantis over and over again during this debate. Conservatives and some Democrats have needled Newsom in essentially accusing him of running a shadow campaign. Newsom tried to make clear over and over again that that's not the case, defending President Biden often during this debate. But Newsom has thrust himself into the conversation for the presidency. And if he's not angling to run this cycle, which he stresses he's not, he certainly appears to be doing so - positioning himself at least for 2028.

FADEL: And you said there seemed to be more on the line for DeSantis here. How did he handle the debate?

MONTANARO: You know, I think his people feel really good about it. It was certainly a friendly environment for him. The topics benefited his point of view, talking about people moving out of California because of high taxes, immigration, violent crime, homelessness. You get the idea. And the California liberal reputation is going to be a hurdle for Newsom if he does decide to run at some point. You know, DeSantis stressed that Biden wants to replicate the California model for the nation. Newsom was quick to counter, charging that Florida's tax system hurts working people, that DeSantis bullies the marginalized, and that women's reproductive rights are under assault because of Florida's six-week abortion ban. Here's how DeSantis shot back.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON DESANTIS: You know he's lying to you about all these other facts and figures, about all this other stuff. He's just throwing stuff out to see what sticks against the wall. This is a slick, slippery politician.

MONTANARO: You know, DeSantis went after Newsom on the debate about books and schools, even the cleanliness, you could say, of California cities in pretty provocative ways. He brought onstage what appeared to be a page from a graphic novel with partially blacked out images showing sexual acts that he's claiming is in California's schools, as well as a map of, frankly, well, poop that he said is from an app depicting parts of San Francisco.

FADEL: OK, he's really pulling out all the stops there.

MONTANARO: (Laughter).

FADEL: Do you think any of what he did helped him get what he needed out of this debate, which is to get a boost in the Republican primary?

MONTANARO: Yeah, I'm not sure it did. You know, time's really running out for DeSantis. He's trailing former President Trump by a lot. There's only 44 days to the Iowa caucuses, where he needs to do really well. It's tough for him because Newsom seemed not only to want to defend California, but also try to tank DeSantis' campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NEWSOM: When are you going to drop out and at least give Nikki Haley a shot to take down Donald Trump and this nomination? She laid you out.

FADEL: Oh.

MONTANARO: It's tough to debate a man with nothing to lose. In the end, neither of them may be elected president in 2024, but this could be a preview of the next presidential cycle.

FADEL: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks, Domenico.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD'S "SPEAKING GENTLY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.
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