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Journalists watch as Florida Governor and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis debates California Governor Gavin Newsom on a screen in the media room in Alpharetta, Georgia, U.S., November 30, 2023. ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/Reuters

Neither Ron DeSantis nor Gavin Newsom are expected to become president next year. Mr. DeSantis, the governor of Florida, is well behind Donald Trump in current polls for the Republican nomination. Mr. Newsom, the governor of California, isn’t even running.

But the two men gave a noisy preview of the arguments that will mark the fault lines in next year’s U.S. presidential election – and perhaps in the next White House contest four years later – in an unusual 90-minute televised debate moderated by Fox News by host Sean Hannity.

Few television shows have so deftly showcased such contrasting visions for the United States: California, an economic colossus led by an eloquent governor armed with a seemingly inexhaustible reservoir of facts; and Florida, a sunny destination for more and more Americans, led by a governor who knows how to tell anecdotes and express his disdain for opponents.

“This is a slippery, slippery politician whose state is failing. People are leaving his state and he’s trying to take credit for his failures,” Mr. DeSantis said of Mr. Newsom, calling him a liberal tyrant, accusing him of lying and once dismissing him as “just talk.”

Florida has migration numbers on its side: 750,000 people left California in 2021 and 2022, while 454,000 moved to Florida. Among those who arrived in Florida, Mr. DeSantis said, were Mr. Newsom’s in-laws.

“Freedom is what works. The failures need to be left in the trash can,” Mr. DeSantis said.

“Tell women this ‘freedom’ that you are trying to criminalize in your state,” Mr. Newsom responded, referring to a strict abortion law in Florida that Mr. DeSantis signed.

“They want to take us back to a world before the 1960s, America in reverse. They want to roll back hard-won national rights,” Mr. Newsom said.

He offered his full support to US President Joe Biden and US Vice President Kamala Harris, defended the White House in its attempts to pass immigration reform against opposition from the Republican Congress, and pointed to the gains for the California economy from Bidenomics “absolutely accelerate.” “We are strengthening our dominance in manufacturing and accelerating our revitalization,” he said.

The debate gave Mr. DeSantis a chance to make the case against a formidable liberal opponent and use California as a foil to advance a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, in which he is battling for second place against former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley .

For Mr. Newsom, meanwhile, it offered a national stage and a chance to make his case to the conservatives who make up much of Fox News’ audience. He dismissed accusations that he was running a shadow campaign behind an aging Democratic president – “I’ll run Joe Biden against Ron DeSantis at 100 any day of the week,” he said – even as he tried to frame a Republican running for president. , accusing Mr. DeSantis of failing in his attempts to “out-Trump Trump.”

“When are you going to get out and at least give Nikki Haley a chance to defeat Donald Trump for this nomination?” he asked.

Mr. Newsom criticized Florida for banning books from schools and, he said, demeaning people of different sexual orientations.

“What’s wrong with Toni Morrison’s books? “What’s wrong with Amanda Gormans?” he said.

“What you are doing is using education as a sword for your cultural cleansing,” he said, denying allegations that his state was exposing children to offensive content in school. California, he said, is delaying sex education until middle school. “We focus on math and science. We are focused on redesigning our school system. He criminalizes teachers and libraries.”

Mr. DeSantis received a measure of support from the Fox anchors, who compiled statistics showing that Florida is a place with cheaper gas prices, higher educational outcomes, lower violent crime rates, far lower unemployment and significantly fewer people without homes.

Florida’s governor cited economic inequality in California and accused the state of hollowing out its middle class.

“What California represents is the Biden-Harris agenda on steroids. They would like nothing more than to have four years to roll out California’s model nationwide. “That would be catastrophic for working people,” he said.

Mr. Newsom argued that California has lower taxes for lower-income people than 32 other states. “I oppose regressive taxes that favor millionaires and billionaires over the working poor,” he said.

But Mr. DeSantis came armed with a prop that offered a visual refutation of California gone wrong: a map of San Francisco dotted with markers showing where human feces had been found on that city’s streets. He blamed the state’s left-wing politics.

“In California, you have the freedom to defecate in public. “You have the freedom to pitch a tent on Sunset Boulevard,” Mr. DeSantis said. These were “not the freedoms our founding fathers envisioned, but they have contributed to the destruction of the quality of life in California,” he said, accusing Mr. Newsom of clearing the city’s streets just for the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping for APEC to have summit earlier this month.

“They are willing to do it for a communist dictator, but not willing to do it for their own people,” he said.

“That’s such nonsense,” Mr. Newsom responded.

He described homelessness in his state as a decades-long problem caused by the closure of mental health facilities. California, he said, has taken tens of thousands of people off the streets and broken up thousands of camps, while Florida has the worst mental health care system outside of Texas and Mississippi.

The two men argued over gasoline prices, with Mr. Newsom saying his state had been “duped by the oil company” and had passed an aggressive anti-fuging law in response.

If the oil companies are losing money, Mr. DeSantis countered: “Why don’t they do the same in Florida or Georgia?”

On immigration, meanwhile, Mr. DeSantis accused Mr. Newsom of being too soft on those who are in the country illegally, citing the example of Herbert Nixon Flores, a man accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend in 2019 Having killed in front of her three-year-old children in 2021. old child. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement publicly criticized California’s sanctuary policies after the killing, saying the state had rejected requests to hand Mr. Flores over for deportation.

But Mr. Newsom accused Mr. DeSantis of using migrants for political theater, pointing to busing people to Martha’s Vineyard and California.

“This kind of gamesmanship – using people as pawns – is, in my opinion, disqualifying,” he said.

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