Republican DeSantis, Democrat Newsom clash in acrimonious debate

Republican DeSantis, Democrat Newsom clash in acrimonious debate

Republican DeSantis, Democrat Newsom clash in acrimonious debate By Reuters

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Published Nov 30, 2023 06:05AM ET
Updated Dec 01, 2023 12:21AM ET

© Reuters. Governor of U.S. state of California Gavin Newsom speaks at a press conference in Beijing, China October 25, 2023. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo

By Tim Reid and Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -U.S. presidential candidate Ron DeSantis clashed with California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom in an acrimonious debate on Thursday night, making a last-ditch pitch to Republican voters that he is the best option to take on President Joe Biden in next year’s election.

The square-off with Newsom, a prominent Biden ally who is widely expected to pursue a future White House bid, quickly turned to insults.

DeSantis frequently called Newsom a liar in charge of a failing state, while Newsom ridiculed his Florida counterpart as a bully badly trailing Republican presidential rival Donald Trump in presidential polls.

“When are you going to drop out and at least give Nikki Haley a shot to take down Donald Trump,” said Newsom, 56, referring to the former South Carolina governor who has been surpassing DeSantis in some polls as the top Trump alternative.

DeSantis, 45, gazed at Newsom in silence for a few seconds, before repeating several times: “You wish.”

DeSantis was once viewed as Trump’s most formidable challenger, but now trails frontrunner Trump in the race for the Republican White House nomination by over 40 points and has seen donor and media attention shift to Haley.

“This is a slick, slippery politician whose state is failing,” DeSantis shot at Newsom. “People are leaving California in droves.”

To emphasize his view that left-leaning California was misgoverned, DeSantis brought a map of what he said showed the quantity of human feces found on the streets of San Francisco.

DeSantis held his own and had a strong showing against Newsom, a skilled debater, but it was likely insufficient to revive his stuttering campaign.

The Trump campaign said in an email to supporters before the debate that DeSantis’ face-off with Newsom was a “desperate” attempt to gain attention as his campaign struggles with infighting and shifts in direction.

John Feehery, a Republican strategist not affiliated with any of the campaigns, said the debate was a good chance for DeSantis to highlight his conservative governance in Florida but was unlikely to alter the trajectory of the Republican nominating race.

“Newsom is very slick, slicker than DeSantis,” Feehery said.

DeSantis’ aides say Newsom could be a presidential contender as early as next year, though the governor has pledged to stand behind Biden’s bid. He strongly backed Biden again on Thursday.

“I will take Joe Biden at 100 versus Ron DeSantis any day of the week at any age,” Newsom said, when pressed on whether Biden, 81, is too old to be president.

Abortion was another flash-point between the two governors. Newsom called DeSantis’s six-week abortion ban in Florida “extreme”, amid polls that show the issue of abortion restrictions has become a political problem for Republicans. DeSantis said: “I believe in a culture of life.”

DeSantis is due to meet several of his Republican rivals in Alabama next week for their fourth debate. The Republican nominating contest kicks off in Iowa on Jan. 15.

Republican DeSantis, Democrat Newsom clash in acrimonious debate

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