Red vs Blue State Debate highlights: Top 5 moments from the DeSantis, Newsom slugfest

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The Fox News debate between Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had several tense moments as the two governors clashed over policies related to abortion, crime, taxes and COVID-19.

The first-of-its-kind showdown hosted by Fox News’ Sean Hannity put a spotlight on various areas of disagreement between Newsom and DeSantis. The two governors have sought to tackle key issues facing their states with divergent approaches.

Here are five of the most memorable moments from the debate.

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During an exchange about Florida’s laws prohibiting certain sexually-explicit books in schools, DeSantis defended his actions by showing Newsom images of one of the books banned.

“This is a book that’s in some of the schools in California — in Florida, it’s not consistent with our standards — it’s called ‘Genderqueer.’ Some of it’s blacked out. You probably would not be able to put this on air,” DeSantis remarked. 

“This is pornography. It’s cartoons. It’s aimed at children and it’s wrong,” he continued. “So, this should not be in schools. When people on the left say that somehow you are ‘banning books’ by removing this from a young kid’s classroom — this is not age appropriate.”

He added he would pursue a policy to outlaw such books from classrooms nationwide if elected president, explaining that some states shouldn’t be allowed to “trample on the rights of parents.”

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Newsom, though, accused DeSantis of waging a “cultural purge” of books.

“You want to roll back hard-earned national rights on voting rights, on civil rights, and LGBTQ rights, on women’s rights, not just access to abortion, but also access to contraception. You want to weaponize grievance, you are focusing on false separateness. You in particular run on a banning binge, a cultural purge, intimidating and humiliating people,” Newsom said.

“We actually require parental engagement on curriculum development, and we don’t completely lie. We don’t require K through 3rd grade sexual education. That doesn’t happen until middle school. What you’re doing is using education as a sword for your cultural purge,” Newsom added.

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DeSantis blasted Newsom during the debate for claiming that California, not Florida is the “freedom state.” He noted that while California had certain freedoms other states did not, they were freedoms such as the “freedom to defecate in public.”

“Gavin Newsom at one point tried to say that California was the ‘freedom state,’” DeSantis remarked. “I just kind of laughed, like, you’re locking people down, you’re doing all this stuff. Then, I thought about it and California does have freedoms that other states don’t.”

“You have the freedom to defecate in public in California,” he added. “You have the freedom to pitch a tent on Sunset Boulevard. You have the freedom to create a homeless encampment under a freeway and light it on fire. You have the freedom to have an open air drug market. You have the freedom that, if you’re an illegal alien, to get all these taxpayer benefits. 

“So those are freedoms,” the Florida governor concluded. “They’re not the freedoms our founding fathers envisioned, but they have contributed to the destruction of the quality of life in California. And the results speak for themselves.”

Newsom then responded, saying he “loved the rant on freedom” and accused DeSantis of criminalizing teachers, doctors, librarians and women that “seek reproductive care.”

“Spare me this notion of freedom,” Newsom said. “Ask the folks at Disney about freedom and free enterprise.”

Later in the debate, to highlight the so-called “freedom to defecate,” DeSantis held up a map of San Francisco showing how human feces has been discovered in public in nearly every area of the city.

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During a discussion on school closures amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Newsom forcefully interjected to scold DeSantis about how he pronounced Vice President Kamala Harris’ first name.

“And by the way, it’s not Kamala Harris,” Newsom said. “Shame on you! It’s Kamala Harris, Ron. It’s Kamala Harris, Madame Vice President to you. Kamala Harris,” Newsom said.

“Stop insulting,” he added.

While Newsom attempted to correct DeSantis’ pronunciation, the Florida governor continued to argue that the long-term closures of schools during the pandemic has harmed children who were forced into remote learning.

DeSantis ripped Los Angeles County district attorney George Gascon — one of several left-wing prosecutors nationwide that have received campaign funding from liberal financier George Soros — for his handling of crime in Los Angeles. He said California’s rising crime rate is contributing to a growing number of residents fleeing the state.

“Here’s the thing,” DeSantis said. “People are leaving California in droves because [Newsom] has failed to stand up for public safety. They are on an ideological joyride to let people out of prison early, to go easy on them. Heck, Gavin’s buddy in Los Angeles, Gascon, he doesn’t even prosecute.”

“When I was in Southern California for the Reagan debate, I had a lot of women tell me they have to take off all their jewelry just to be able to go shopping because, otherwise, they’re going to get mugged,” he continued. “That is the reality that people are facing in California. Gavin can try to put lipstick on that pig, but the fact of the matter is he has failed the people of California.”

The Florida governor later noted that he removed prosecutors in Florida who received funding from Soros.

“They were endangering the public and I removed them from their posts,” he remarked. “And Gavin Newsom has not lifted a finger to rein in Gascon in L.A. — that that city has collapsed, that county has collapsed. He is not enforcing the law.”

Newsom then responded, blasting DeSantis for criticizing “one of the great American cities.”

“You’re talking down the great state of California, talking down one of the great American cities, Los Angeles. That’s insulting,” he said. “And you’re doing it because you’re trying to obfuscate the fact that you have a higher murder rate in the state of Florida. In the state of California, we have the lowest crime rate we’ve had in 50 years.”

In 2022, California’s violent crime rate increased 13.5% compared to 2019, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.

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The two governors then sparred over their handling of the pandemic with Newsom arguing DeSantis both locked down Florida before California shut down and that his lax policies led to a higher death rate in Florida. DeSantis, though, blasted Newsom for shutting his state down for an extended period of time and listening to the advice of teachers unions.

“You were not following science. You were a lock-down governor,” DeSantis said. “You did a lot of damage to your people. You had more kids locked out of school for a longer period of time in California than anywhere else in the country. It was the working-class kids. It was the middle income kids — his kids were in private school, they were in class. He is owned by the teachers union.”

“Let’s talk about your record on COVID,” Newsom responded. “You passed an emergency declaration before the state of California did. You closed down your beaches, your bars, your restaurants. It’s a fact. You had quarantines, checkpoints all over the state of Florida.”

“You were promoting vaccines. You even wore a mask,” he added. “He did all of that until he decided to fall prey to the fringe of his party. And as a consequence of that, tens of thousands of people lost their lives, the equivalent of ten 9/11s.”

Newsom notably spearheaded one of the nation’s most stringent and aggressive approaches to combating COVID-19.

He was the first governor to lock down his state and the last to reopen schools during the pandemic. The governor has also repeatedly mocked DeSantis’ approach to handling the spread of COVID-19 as “BS,” pointing to the per capita death rate in Florida.

Fox News Digital reporters Adam Sabes and Brandon Gillespie contributed to this report. 

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