ATLANTA — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom aren’t political rivals for the same office, but when they meet in metro Atlanta on Thursday for a televised debate they could be previewing a clash that goes beyond typical electoral politics.
Their debate will take place in a largely empty studio in Alpharetta and be moderated by Sean Hannity of Fox News, who is billing the 90-minute event as a showdown pitting red-state ideas against blue-state policies.
A central question Hannity told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he hopes to explore: “Why do these two powerhouse governors have such a deep political divide?”
The suburban Atlanta setting is no accident. Georgia is one of the few competitive states on the 2024 roadmap to the White House, and Republicans consider it a must-win to defeat President Joe Biden next year.
The debate could also offer a glimpse of a showdown to come. DeSantis’ campaign for president has struggled to gain traction, though he could remain a political force even in defeat. Newsom is already positioning himself for a White House bid in 2028.
“This is a high school version of American Idol. It makes no difference for 2024, but it’s a chance to spot talent for a future presidential race,” said Republican strategist Brian Robinson, who noted that the Georgia setting is an example of the state’s “center of the political universe” status.
Both governors insist their focus is on the short term. For Newsom, it’s a way to burnish the Democratic brand in a hostile environment and press the case for Biden’s policies before a national audience.
The stakes are higher for DeSantis, who is badly trailing former President Donald Trump in polls and, in some surveys, is losing ground to former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Still, there’s ample potential payoff. DeSantis hopes to draw attention away from Trump and other GOP contenders while pummeling a rival who some Republicans insist could wind up the eventual Democratic nominee if Biden drops out of the race.
On the campaign trail, DeSantis has used Newsom as a proxy for Democratic policies that energize the conservative base. He’s eager to draw contrasts between their stances on illegal immigration, taxation, U.S. foreign aid to Ukraine and the war between Israel and Hamas.
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