The one major political figure who spent more time than any other in the GOP debate Spin Room wasn’t even a Republican: California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Speaking for Joe Biden’s re-election campaign, Newsom sparred with Sean Hannity on Fox News’ Hannity, spoke with CNN’s Dana Bash and chatted with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. He answered questions about his own presidential ambitions, defended the state of California, praised the recent WGA-AMPTP agreement and even weighed in the Travis Kelce-Taylor Swift situation. “It was the XFL, the JV team,” Newsom said of the seven candidates who participated in the event.
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Some of the actual candidates who appeared onstage did venture into the spin room for lengthy periods, including Vivek Ramaswamy, Tim Scott, Mike Pence and Doug Burghum, but Newsom also did a pre-debate round of Spin Room interviews to a swarm of reporters and camera crews.
For far and away a majority of reporters covering any debate, the Spin Room itself is the only chance they get to interact with the candidates and their staffs. Unless a journalist works for the network hosting the debate, media is located outside the actual debate hall. In the case of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley northwest of Los Angeles, the debate was in a spacious pavilion that houses Air Force One, while reporters were on the other side of the complex in a large tent. In the middle, and through an extra round of security, was the Spin Room, located down a flight of stairs from a library cafe. Inside the room, network setups lined the walls while staffers held placards listing the campaign officials available for interviews.
As mobbed as the Spin Room can get, its purpose is to reinforce what was said by the candidates onstage, or to clean up a debate gaffe or low point. One of the first candidates to appear in the room after the debate was Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and while he promoted his own performance, he was hardly a booster of the debate itself, in which candidates talked over one another and engaged in extended periods of bickering. “If I was at home watching that on TV, I would have changed the channel,” he told Hannity.
A surrogate for Donald Trump, Kari Lake of Arizona, berated a reporter asking about abortion laws. “You don’t look every smart. You look very dumb, actually,” she said before turning elsewhere.
She also defended Trump’s decision to skip the debate, drawing criticism from candidates DeSantis and Chris Christie, the latter of whom referred to the former president as “Donald Duck.”
“I know he doesn’t lack courage, but there’s no sense in a man who’s at 60 points in the polls showing up and debating the junior high debate team,” Lake told Deadline. “We have seven people on that stage who are in some sort of weird vanity project.”
As Newsom has elevated his national profile, it has been met with speculation that he is building up his presidential ambitions. He’s tried to dismiss those, certainly when it comes to challenging Biden, and he did so again with Hannity.
“In you heart, in your mind, you want this,” Hannity said, “but you have basically gone on a media tour sucking up to Joe Biden, and you know he’s a cognitive mess. You know it.”
Smiling, Newsom said, “I also know he has an extraordinary record to run on, and I couldn’t be more proud.”
Newsom actually will get a chance to debate soon, when he participates in an event organized by Hannity and Fox News — a November 30 one-on-one with DeSantis that is being billed as Red State vs. Blue State. The logistics, like the size of an audience, as still being worked out.
The Spin Room gave a bit of a preview of what to expect, as Newsom countered DeSantis’ attacks on California for its crime problem by pointing out homicide rates in Jacksonville and Miami.
Newsom also explained his comment to Fox 11 Los Angeles reporter Elex Michaelson, that DeSantis “took the bait” in agreeing to do the November event.
“Why would you debate a governor of California that’s not running for president of the United States when he is running for president of the United States?” Newsom told Deadline. “He puts out an ad today, not about his presidential campaign but about the debate against me. It’s a sideshow to a sideshow. Think about how Trump’s going to handle this. He’s going to have the time of his life talking about this being some sort of JV game, which it is.”
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