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Sparring, smiles and a ‘poop map’: Key moments from the Newsom vs DeSantis debate

The debate between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and California Governor Gavin Newsom was every bit as heated and fiery as expected. Rachel Sharp reports

Rachel Sharp
Friday 01 December 2023 13:29 GMT
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Newsom trolls DeSantis over 2024 campaign at Fox News debate

Maps of human faeces. Mispronounced names. Accusations of running “shadow campaigns”.

The debate between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and California Governor Gavin Newsom was every bit as fiery as expected.

The two governors came face to face on Thursday night, in a long-anticipated debate hosted by Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

At times, it appeared to be a practice session for an unlikely 2024 presidential debate – though one where one of the individuals on stage isn’t even running and the second is flailing in his party’s polls.

Hot on the agenda was the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2024 race, LGBT+ rights and abortion.

Here are some of the key moments and takeaways from the night:

‘Neither of us will be the nominee’

Throughout the debate, Mr Newsom repeatedly trolled Mr DeSantis over his so far disappointing 2024 campaign, as he continues to trail Donald Trump in the polls.

While Mr DeSantis is hoping to take the White House in 2024, Mr Newsom has not entered the race as President Joe Biden is seeking reelection – yet the debate appeared to be something of a practice presidential debate.

But, despite this, the California governor said that the two men do have something big in common: “One thing we have in common is neither of us will be the nominee for our party in 2024.”

He continued to jibe at him, claiming that he has resorted to trying to “out-Trump Trump” to claw in votes.

“How’s that going for you, Ron?” he taunted him.

Florida Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis (L) and California Governor Gavin Newsom (R) appear on screen from the press room during a debate held by Fox News, in Alpharetta, Georgia, on November 30, 2023 (AFP via Getty Images)

Mr DeSantis meanwhile hit back by accusing Mr Newsom of running a “shadow campaign” for the 2024 Democratic nomination.

The Florida governor also took aim at Mr Biden and his age, saying that he is “in decline” and a “danger to the country”.

“It’s a danger to the country. He has no business running for president, and, you know, Gavin Newsom agrees with that. He won’t say that. That’s why he’s running his shadow campaign,” he said.

Biden at 100 vs DeSantis any age

Mr Newsom fired back: “I would take Joe Biden at 100 versus Ron DeSantis any day of the week at any age.”

When pressed by host Sean Hannity as to whether he could say that he would not run in the 2024 race under any circumstances, Mr Newsom insisted: “Correct.”

“I don’t know how many times I can say it, just making this stuff up about a ‘shadow campaign,’” he said.

“I appreciate and respect the work the president is doing, and the vice president. It’s the Biden-Harris campaign and team.”

Throughout the debate, Mr Newsom frequently acted as a mouthpiece for the Biden administration, touting the president’s records on everything from the economy to border policy.

DeSantis corrected for mispronouncing Kamala Harris's name

In one heated moment, Mr Newsom rebuked Mr DeSantis for mispronouncing Vice President Kamala Harris’s name.

The Florida governor went on the attack against Ms Harris and President Joe Biden at one point, claiming that they are “in the pocket of the teachers’ union”.

‘Madam Vice President to you!’ Newsom rebukes DeSantis for mispronouncing Kamala Harris’s name

During his comments, he mispronounced the vice president’s first name – something many Republicans and conservatives, notably Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson, have repeatedly and intentionally done.

Mr Newsom quickly corrected him, scolding: “And by the way, it’s not ‘Kamala’ Harris. Shame on you.”

He then added: “Madam Vice President to you!”

DeSantis bizarrely brandishes ‘poop map’

At one point, Mr DeSantis bizarrely resorted to brandishing a so-called “poop map” of the city of San Francisco as he sought to attack his Democratic rival’s liberal policies.

“This is a map of San Francisco,” Mr DeSantis said, holding up a map of the city with brown markings across it.

“There’s a lot of plots on that. You may be asking: ‘What is that plotting?’ Well, this is an app where they plot the human faeces that are found on the streets of San Francisco.

“And you see how almost the whole thing is covered? Because this is what has happened in one of the previous greatest cities this country has ever had,” to laughter from Mr Newsom.

Moment DeSantis holds up ‘human faeces’ map during Newsom’s debate

The map in question is a graphic released in 2019 by OpenTheBooks.com, which mapped out reports of human faeces across San Francisco between 2011 to 2019. It found more than 75,000 points – that is, reported sightings of human faeces – on the map.

Newsom slams DeSantis’ record on LGBT+ rights

At one part of the debate, Mr Newsom slammed Mr DeSantis over his record on LGBT+ rights – after the Florida governor was asked about his controversial “Don’t say gay” bill, banning discussions and books on sexuality in the state’s schools.

Mr DeSantis held up a page from the graphic novel Gender Queer, slamming it as “pornography”.

“This is pornography, it’s cartoons, it’s aimed at children, and it’s wrong,” Mr DeSantis said.

Mr Newsom responded by slamming him for “demeaning” the LGBT+ community.

“I don’t like the way you demean people. I don’t like the way you demean the LGBTQ+ community,” he said.

‘Extreme’ abortion bans 

One of the key topics on the agenda was abortion – an issue that has loomed large over the 2024 election season.

Mr Newsom was questioned by Mr Hannity as to whether he would support any restrictions, particularly in the third trimester of pregnancy.

Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom clash in Fox News debate (Fox News)

The California governor pointed out that abortions in the third trimester are extremely rare and are usually only carried out for the life of the mother or when the foetus is non-viable.

He responded by turning the attention onto Mr DeSantis and his introduction of an “extreme” six-week abortion ban in Florida.

Mr DeSantis said he introduced the strict ban – giving women in Florida among the most restrictive access to reproductive healthcare across the country – as “I think we’re better off when everybody counts”.

He then refused to answer Mr Newsom when he grilled him on whether he would back a national abortion ban.

Newsom backs DeSantis into a corner over Covid policies

The Covid-19 pandemic – or more specifically their states’ responses to it – was also hot on the agenda on Thursday night and, in a remarkable moment, Mr DeSantis tied himself in knots claiming that he did, then didn’t “follow science”.

Mr DeSantis took aim at Mr Newsom, claiming that he shuttered schools and businesses in California while he kept places incuding Walt Disney World open.

“You were not following science. You were a lockdown governor. You did a lot of damage to your people,” he said.

Newsom forces DeSantis to deny he follows science

But, Mr Newsom pointed out that Florida also closed bars and other businesses in the early days of the pandemic.

“You closed down your beaches, your bars, your resturants, it’s a fact,” Mr Newsom said. “You had quarantines. You had checkpoints all over the state of Florida.”

He added: “You followed science. You followed Fauci.”

This clearly struck a nerve with Mr DeSantis simply resorting to repeatedly saying “that’s not true” as he wanted to distance himself from Dr Anthony Fauci – who he is now a vocal critic of.

Newsom accuses DeSantis of ‘lying to migrants’

Immigration and border policies was also a topic of hot debate with Mr DeSantis accusing Democrats of fuelling fentanyl smuggling and Mr Newsom slamming the Floridian for “lying to migrants”.

Mr DeSantis fumed that “open borders” under the Biden administration is allowing the drug to flow into the US from Mexico.

“This is the vision of Biden-Harris-Newsom,” Mr DeSantis said.

Meanwhile, the California governor brought up Mr DeSantis’ controversial stunt where he flew migrants to the wealthy enclave of Martha’s Vineyard and then abandoned them there with no shelter or employment opportunities.

“That kind of gamesmanship, using human beings as pawns, I think is disqualifying,” he said, adding: “You’re trolling folks and trying to find migrants to play political games.”

Additional reporting by Josh Marcus

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