Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday the Californians flocking to Florida are trying to escape the liberal agenda that Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democrats have shoved down the throats of voters over the years.
In a prime-time debate with Mr. Newsom on Fox News, Mr. DeSantis said the outflow from California was so bad the state “actually at one point ran out of U-Hauls” and the Democratic governor’s family members even started jumping ship.
“I was talking to a fella who had made the move from California to Florida and he was telling me Florida was much better governed, safer, better budget, lower taxes, all this stuff, and he was really happy with the quality of life,” Mr. DeSantis said.
“Then he paused and said, ‘And oh, by the way, I am Gavin Newsom’s father-in-law,’” the Florida governor said.
Kenneth F. Siebel Jr., whose daughter Jennifer married Mr. Newsom in 2008, did indeed move from the Golden State to the Sunshine State in March 2020, buying a $3 million home in Naples and registering to vote there just as the COVID lockdowns began.
Mr. Newsom said claims that Californians are leaving the state in droves is bogus, though the state lost a Congressional seat under reapportionment for the first time in history as a result of the 2020 census.
He warned that Mr. DeSantis wants to steer the nation in what he called a dark direction.
“You want to bring us back to the pre-1960s world — America in reverse,” Mr. Newsom said. “You want to roll back hard-earned national rights — on voting rights, on civil rights, on LGBTQ rights, on women’s rights, not just access to abortion, but also access to contraception.”
Mr. Newsom said Mr. DeSantis and former President Donald Trump “are really trying to light democracy on fire.”
“There are profound differences tonight … but there is one thing we in closing that we have in common is that neither of us will be the nominee for our party in 2024,” he said.
The opening salvo served as a preview of what was to come during the 90-minute “Great Red vs. Blue State Debate” in which the 45-year-old Mr. DeSantis and the 56-year-old Mr. Newsom failed to agree on basic facts, talked past each other and clashed over their respective records on taxes, immigration, crime, abortion, parental rights, and the coronavirus.
Mr. DeSantis repeatedly called Mr. Newsom “slick,” accused him of spewing lies, and said he could not be trusted.
Mr. Newsom returned the favor, casting Mr. DeSantis as a far-right radical who has moved on the issues in the hopes of lifting his flagging presidential bid.
Mr. Newsom defended Mr. Biden various times, giving the administration an “A” grade.
But Mr. DeSantis disagreed, saying Mr. Biden has “failed” and people were paying the price, literally, through at the grocery checkout and the gas pump.
Asked whether Mr. Biden has suffered cognitive decline, Mr. DeSantis said “yes” and said his health “represents a danger to the country.”
“He has no business running for president, and you know Gavin Newsom agrees with that. He won’t say that, but that is why he is running his shadow campaign,” Mr. DeSantis said.
Mr. Newsom said Mr. Biden is “absolutely” up for another four-year term, and credited the administration for dipping, low unemployment, and a “booming” economy.
“I will take Joe Biden at 100 versus Ron Desantis any day of the week,” Mr. Newsom said.
Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Newsom find themselves similarly positioned within their respective parties.
They both are stuck in line behind aging leaders — Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump — who appear to be on a general election crash course, barring a GOP primary surprise, a Biden health scare, or a Trump imprisonment.
Mr. Newsom has welcomed the opportunity to battle with rightwing political figures and their allies in the conservative media, fueling speculation that he is itching to run for president if Mr. Biden has to pull out of the race.
Mr. DeSantis, meanwhile, has maintained that Florida should serve as a model for the nation, and jumped at opportunities to highlight blue-state woes, particularly California’s.
“The reality is they have failed because of his leftist ideology,” Mr. DeSantis said about California. “The choice for America is this: What Biden and Harris and Newsom want to do is take the California model and do that nationally.”
“In Florida, we showed conservative principles worked,” he said. “This country must choose freedom over failure.”
Mr. Newsom said Mr. DeSantis is more interested in waging cultural wars for political reasons than lifting up people. He said Mr. DeSantis has tried – and failed – to “out Trump-Trump” in the Republican presidential primary.
“How is that going for you Ron, you are down 41 points in your home state,” Mr. Newsom said.
For Mr. DeSantis, the showdown was a chance to pull voters’ attention back to his quest to become the GOP’s 2024 standard bearer.
The race, in recent weeks, has been overshadowed by the bloody fallout from the deadly Hamas terrorist attack on Israel, and a lingering sense the GOP primary is in a state of inertia.
Mr. Newsom defended his state’s high taxes on income, sales and gas by accusing Mr. DeSantis of embracing a regressive tax that hurts workers.
“Who does he tax?” Mr. Newsom said. “He taxes low-income workers more than we tax millionaires and billionaires in the state of California. The question is, Ron, who are you for?”
Mr. DeSantis pointed out that Florida does have a state income tax, and asked how $7 per gallon gas and an 8% sales tax have helped working Californians.
“How many people leave Florida to go to California because they pay less taxes?” he said. “I have not seen that.”
On immigration, Mr. Newsom said Mr. DeSantis supported amnesty for immigration while in Congress, and said he has no credibility on the issue.
Mr. DeSantis said Mr. Newsom is “lying to you.”
“This is a slick, slippery politician whose state is failing, people are leaving his state, and he is trying to run interference for his failures,” Mr. DeSantis said.