Debating DeSantis, Newsom is all-in for Biden

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Gov. Gavin Newsom wanted viewers of his Thursday evening Fox News debate with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to know two things: He’s not running for president — at least not in 2024 — and he’s all in for President Biden.

Newsom wasted no time in explaining why he had agreed to debate DeSantis on Sean Hannity’s show.

“I’ll tell you why I’m here: I’m here to tell the truth about the Biden-Harris record and also compare and contrast Ron DeSantis’ record and the Republican Party’s record” with that of California, Newsom said in his opening statement.

“There’s one thing … that we have in common,” he added, referring to DeSantis. “Neither of us will be the nominee for our party in 2024.”

Although Newsom initially proposed the gubernatorial matchup over a year ago, he has since taken on a greater role as surrogate for the Biden campaign, making Thursday’s unusual bicoastal debate an opportunity to test out Biden’s talking points against a Republican.

Newsom visited Israel and China last month in a show of international diplomacy that’s rare for a governor. In September, Newsom attended the Republican presidential debate in Simi Valley, where he volleyed questions with reporters before and after the event.

Behind-the-scenes view of Sean Hannity and Gavin Newsom speaking in front of cameras

Gov. Gavin Newsom, right, does an interview with Sean Hannity after the GOP presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley on Sept. 27.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

With every public display of support, Biden’s campaign has appeared increasingly pleased with Newsom’s performance.

“He’s been tremendously helpful in helping to raise money, getting out on the airwaves and making sure people know what this president has done and what’s at stake in this election,” Biden campaign manager Julie Chávez Rodriguez said ahead of the September debate.

During a visit to San Francisco for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit last month, Biden said of Newsom, “He could be anything he wants. He could have the job I’m looking for.”

DeSantis seemed happy to have a Biden surrogate, rather than a fellow Republican, to debate. The Florida governor has worked to position himself as the Republican Party’s alternative to Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential election. But the former president has had no issue holding onto his double-digit lead in the polls, and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has gained against DeSantis in recent weeks.

“He’s joined at the hip with Biden and [Vice President Kamala] Harris,” DeSantis said of Newsom. “What California represents is the Biden-Harris agenda on steroids.”

Newsom countered with his own digs, often jumping to defend Biden and Harris.

“It’s not Kah-MAH-lah Harris, shame on you. It’s KAH-mah-lah Harris, Ron,” Newsom said at one point, correcting the Florida governor’s pronunciation of the vice president’s name.

In a lightning-round portion of the debate, Hannity asked the two governors to give the president an overall grade. Their answers were predictable: Newsom gave a resounding “A” while DeSantis reported a “fail.”

Hannity’s next question was about the candidates’ reactions to Biden’s age.

“Yes, he’s in decline. Yes, it’s a danger to the country. He has no business running for president,” DeSantis responded. “And you know, Gavin Newsom agrees with that. He won’t say that — that’s why he’s running a shadow campaign.”

“I will take Joe Biden at 100 versus Ron DeSantis any day of the week, at any age,” Newsom countered.

When Hannity pressed Newsom about whether he’d run for president if Biden bowed out, Newsom brushed off the question with some frustration. “It’s not even an option. He’s doing fantastically.”

Minutes before the debate concluded, an email blast from Biden’s campaign carried a missive from Newsom, asking supporters to donate $25 to the president’s reelection efforts.

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