Dem 51
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GOP 49
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DeSantis to Debate Newsom

What is that scent that you're picking up? Could it be the faint whiff of desperation? Yes, yes it could be. Earlier this week, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) agreed to debate Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA), likely sometime in November.

Last year, when both men were reelected in romps, we were cautious about reading too much into the results, as they each defeated weak opponents under favorable conditions. More specifically, we wrote that both men would be viable candidates for president, but that one shouldn't overrate them based on the gubernatorial result.

Since then, we've revised our assessments, in opposite directions. As to Newsom, he's done an impressive job of elevating himself to the top rank of 2028 candidates, along with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI). He's shown a deft touch when it comes to the modern style of campaigning, which blends meaningful policy accomplishments with skillful poking of your opponents' eyes. Again, you can never know how someone will fare under the ultra-powerful presidential microscope, but Newsom has the potential to be a force in 4 years. That is not something we would have written in 2022. As to DeSantis, although we were right to warn that there were signs of weakness, perhaps we should not have described him as "viable." It is no secret that he's wilted badly in the national spotlight, and that we are extremely unimpressed with his presidential campaign.

A few months ago, when DeSantis officially declared, Newsom—from his seat in the peanut gallery—tried to goad the Governor into a face-to-face debate. Back then, the Floridian was flying high, and so he turned his nose up at the proposal. Now, however, he has to grab for every possible lifeline. Obviously, DeSantis hopes he can make a dent in Donald Trump's lead at the two Republican candidates' debates, but that may not be easy with limited speaking time, particularly if the former president doesn't bother to show up. So, a head-to-head with Newsom may be DeSantis' best chance to show how well he can own the libs.

Assuming the debate moves forward, the setup is designed to give DeSantis the home-field advantage. It probably won't be in Florida (the sites under consideration right now are Nevada, Georgia or North Carolina), but it will be on Fox and it will be moderated by Fox entertainer Sean Hannity. Even though Newsom has to go into the enemy's lair, as it were, we think this is a pretty brilliant move by him. If he botches things, he'll have 3-4 years to put that in the rearview mirror. And if he hits a home run, or even a solid double, he'll be able to introduce himself to a national audience, and to cause some of them to make a mental note that he's someone to watch.

As to DeSantis, he's making the right call, too, because desperate times call for desperate measures. However, the tête-à-tête is much more fraught for him. To start, you normally only want to debate if you're more telegenic than your opponent. At this point, we've seen many hours of DeSantis footage and many hours of Newsom footage, and the Californian leaves Mr. Squeaky Voice in the dust. Even a bunch of softball questions from Hannity may not be able to overcome that. Meanwhile, even if DeSantis manages to "own" Newsom, it's hard to see how that will convince Republican voters that he is superior to Trump. And if DeSantis gets smoked, then that could be a fatal blow to his presidential chances.

In any case, because this is such an unorthodox thing, we would bet it gets better ratings than the actual Republican candidates' debate. Whatever happens, we'll have a full writeup, assuming it goes forward. (Z)

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