California Gov. Gavin Newsom is officially set to take on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in a long-awaited debate this fall on Fox News.
The political rivals will meet on Nov. 30 at a location in Georgia with Fox News host Sean Hannity as moderator.
Fox News on Monday announced the 90-minute event, which it is marketing as the “Red State vs. Blue State Debate.”
“I’m looking forward to providing viewers with an informative debate about the everyday issues and governing philosophies that impact the lives of every American,” Hannity said in a statement.
Newsom has been clamoring for a confrontation since September 2022, when he first began pushing the idea of a debate on Twitter.
“Hey @GovRonDeSantis, clearly you’re struggling, distracted, and busy playing politics with people’s lives,” Newsom tweeted at the time. “Since you have only one overriding need — attention — let’s take this up & debate. I’ll bring my hair gel. You bring your hairspray. Name the time before Election Day.”
The debate equation likely changed for DeSantis in light of his struggling Republican presidential campaign. A national television appearance against a Democratic governor whom GOP voters hate could give him a needed boost. Nearly all polls show him trailing former President Donald Trump by large margins.
After DeSantis expressed interest in the debate, both governors’ camps began floating memos suggesting different debate setups. Newsom preferred a format without a live audience, with four-minute opening statements from each governor. He suggested presidential battleground states Nevada, Georgia and North Carolina as potential locations.
DeSantis’s team pushed for an audience and two-minute opening statement videos allowing each governor to “make the case for their governing philosophy.” They suggested Georgia and Iowa as possible debate sites.
The Fox News release was unclear about specific event details, including whether an audience will be present.
Newsom in early September refuted reports that President Joe Biden opposes the debate. The governor said at a West Sacramento event he received a call from the White House after an NBC News story suggested advisers to the president and Vice President Kamala Harris are irked by the event.
When asked whether he still planned to debate the Florida governor, Newsom was noncommital.
“We’ll see if it lands,” he said at the time. “If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. If it does, it does.”
A political spectacle
A Newsom-DeSantis debate will be a highly unusual event, virtually unprecedented in modern American politics.
Unlike most debates, there are no firm rules of engagement set by political parties or, in the case of general election presidential debates, by a nonpartisan commission. The participants aren’t running against one another. There’s unlikely to be a live audience.
All that is likely to make it difficult to gauge the impact.
For instance, will Democrats tend not to watch, since the debate is to be moderated by Hannity, a conservative commentator who has been sympathetic to Trump and appeared at a 2018 rally for him?
“Would a traditional Democratic voter watch the debate?” asked Gordon Stables, director of the School of Journalism at the University of Southern California. “Or will they see it through social media? If so, which 15 seconds will come across to them?”
Will Republicans focus largely on DeSantis and virtually ignore Newsom, who many already loathe?
“Turn on Fox News and there’s often a story about ‘Crazy California,’’’ said Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.
About the only modern parallel is the November 1993 prime time debate between Vice President Al Gore and 1992 presidential candidate Ross Perot over trade policy. The Clinton administration was trying to win approval for the North American Free Trade Agreement, which would make ease commerce between the U.S., Mexico and Canada.
A lot of Democrats, and the labor unions that supported them, were opposed, so Clinton needed to woo Republicans as well as some Democrats. An estimated 16 million people watched as Gore calmly outlined the Clinton plan while Perot came off as angry and frustrated.
Polls after the debate showed dramatically increased support for the trade agreement. Eleven days after the debate, the Senate approved the plan on a bipartisan vote..