(Bloomberg) -- Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Gavin Newsom of California sparred over taxes, border security and energy, in a debate that unfolded as a sideshow to the 2024 presidential race — and perhaps a glimpse of the next one.
The event — largely regarded as a political stunt — escalated a long-running feud between leaders of states at opposite ends of the nation’s partisan divide who’ve pined for a shot at the White House.
Much of the debate devolved into a shouting match with the two governors yelling over one another or quibbling over facts. Fox News host Sean Hannity, who moderated the event, gently chastised the two governors, telling them he didn’t want to be a “hall monitor” in an unruly conversation.
DeSantis entered Thursday’s debate struggling to gain ground on frontrunner Donald Trump in the campaign for the Republican nomination, with the Iowa caucuses six weeks away. Newsom, 56, who insists he’s not running this cycle, had the chance to air his long-term presidential ambitions a little more openly, amid unease among Democratic voters about incumbent President Joe Biden’s age.
DeSantis, 45, seized on the concerns about Biden, who turned 81 in November, saying, “Yes, he’s in decline, yes it’s a danger to our country. He has no business running for president. Gavin Newsom, he won’t say it but that’s why he’s running his shadow campaign.”
Newsom, taking a dig at DeSantis, said the one thing they have in common is that “neither of us will be the nominee for our party in 2024.”
DeSantis, after the debate, acknowledged that the exposure from the event was a boon to his presidential run.
“I’m in a race where one candidate gets a disproportionate amount of media coverage,” DeSantis said referring to Trump. “So to have 90 minutes on national TV, where I’m able to go and box somebody who was on the far left, that is good exposure for me.”
Earlier: DeSantis Strengthens Iowa Campaign in Bid to Halt Trump in 2024
On the issues, the two men are diametrically opposed. Republicans often invoke California, the most populous state, as a foil for failed liberal policies, while Democrats hold up Florida, the third-most populous state, as a place where rights for transgender residents, women seeking abortions and people of color are being rolled back.
Newsom embraced the White House’s “Bidenomics” agenda during the debate — the messaging platform Biden’s reelection campaign is using to promote the president’s legislative achievements on infrastructure, renewable energy and semiconductor innovation.
Polls have repeatedly shown that the messaging hasn’t resonated with voters, but Newsom cited the job creation, particularly for Black, Hispanic and female workers that has occurred during Biden’s tenure as proof of its success.
He also said that Florida has benefited from Bidenomics, including a $28 million investment for chip manufacturing workforce development that DeSantis lauded earlier this month — without mentioning Biden’s role.
The Florida governor criticized Bidenomics, saying it amounts to “government-dictated” green energy policies that aren’t ready for widespread use, pointing to instances of power outages in California that have prevented people from charging electric cars.
DeSantis has made Newsom the subject of several of his stump speeches on the campaign trail, specifically highlighting the number of people who have migrated from California to Florida, cost of living and crime rates. Newsom has repeatedly called out DeSantis for his self-proclaimed “anti-woke” agenda on abortion, immigration, and LGBTQ+ rights.
The showdown served as a forum for the two politicians to demonstrate the strength of their state’s economies. The unemployment rate in California is above the 3.9% national figure — about 4.8%. In Florida it’s well below, at 2.8%.
About 57,000 people moved from California to Florida in 2022, an amount that has more than doubled over the past decade, according to the US Census Bureau. California has also struggled with a shrinking tax base, while Florida is one of a handful of states where tax collections have risen significantly.
The two have battled over the airwaves, publishing advertisements and fundraising videos that denounce each other’s policies. Their confrontation on stage in Alpharetta, Georgia, Thursday night was set in motion more than a year ago, when Newsom challenged DeSantis to a one-on-one debate.
The debate is a “win-win” for both DeSantis and Newsom since it appeals to the Democratic base “who’s happy to see someone swing at Republican ideas” and to the Republicans who want “to rail on the homeless situation in California,” said Andrew Acosta, a Democratic political consultant in Sacramento, before the event. The debate underscores the state of politics heading into 2024, he said.
“It’s so polarized and partisan where you really have very few people that are talking to a middle crowd,” Acosta said.
--With assistance from Gregory Korte.
(Updates with Biden’s age, in fifth paragraph.)
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