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Washington Wednesday: Florida vs. California

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WORLD Radio - Washington Wednesday: Florida vs. California

Govs. Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom prepare to debate their divergent policies on Thursday


Republican presidential candidate Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (left) and California Gov. Gavin Newsom (right) Photo by Associated Press

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: It’s Wednesday, November 29th, 2023. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Paul Butler.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s Washington Wednesday.

Last week, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced the dates and locations of four general election debates to take place in 2024. As things stand now, the frontrunners in both parties, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, have indicated that they will not participate if nominated next Spring.

BUTLER: Meanwhile, another contest has been taking shape: the rivalry between two state governors, Ron DeSantis of Florida and Gavin Newsom of California.

This Thursday evening at 9:30pm Eastern Time, Newsom and DeSantis will meet in Alpharetta, Georgia for a 90-minute debate moderated by Sean Hannity of FOX News.

The governors are expected to talk about the impact and influence of their state policies on issues like the economy, immigration, and education.

EICHER: Joining us to preview the debate are professors Dario Moreno and David McCuan. Mr. Moreno teaches political science and international relations at Florida International University. Mr. McCaun teaches American politics from Sonoma State University in California. Gentlemen, thank you for joining us.

DAVID McCUAN, GUEST: Thank you for having us.

BUTLER: Well, let's start by getting to know the voting makeup of each of the states. This has been advertised as a showdown between red and blue states. So what distinguishes Florida from California in terms of voting blocks and policies? And Mr. McCuan, let's start with you.

McCUAN: Well, I mean, if you look at California and what's happened, say, since Arnold Schwarzenegger came into office 2003 in the recall, right, so since the Terminator came on, California has become much more democratic. It's a deeply blue state. But it's also has areas of purple. That would be in the Central Valley, and then areas, counties that voted for Donald Trump, and areas where we see Republican lawmakers. So it's a diverse state. It's a huge state, obviously, the economic conditions of the state, fifth largest economy in the world, that matters, but the type of California voter, while democratic and blue is also less wed to party. They're searching around. They're kind of rootless at some level. And because of that, party discipline is not as rigorous. I'll give you an example. California voters like to vote early and often on ballot measure a ballot measure questions similar to what we see in Florida, but with a lot more activism in California. But those voters like to be asked to dance and then they like to tell their potential partner no. And they expect to be asked to dance. And so one thing to watch here over the next year or so, is as Gavin Newsom kind of develops his national kind of bona fides and develops moving forward with his political career, does he move to the ballot? And what does that ballot look like in next November's election?

BUTLER: Well, that’s California. Mr. Moreno, what about Florida?

MORENO: Well, Florida used to be the toss-up state, famously decided the presidency in 2000 by 532 votes. But since Obama, which Florida voted twice for Obama, Florida has been marching more and more in the red column. Part of this is the Florida Hispanic community, which is about 25% of the population, 20% of the voters, is far more conservative than in California. It's heavily Cuban American, especially Miami. A lot of people fleeing communism, progressive and socialist regimes in Latin America. So being a Democratic socialist in Miami is not a very good thing. 

Also, what you have in Florida is an influx of blue state people come into Florida because of lower taxes, lower housing cost, and more job opportunities. So these are slowly shifting the demography of Florida, more and more conservative. Now, the scenes can change quite quickly. And in Florida, politics happens in rapid changes. So what was gospel truth four years ago, it's not going to be gospel truth four years from now. So this debate is not really about this year. It's about four years from now. This debate is about who's going to be the standard bearer of social conservatives, who's going to be the standard bearer of social liberals. And look, Newsom and DeSantis were smart enough to realize that they need each other and they need this debate because it keeps them both very relevant.

EICHER: Good point about that, that their interests are aligned in one sense. But they’re very different in another sense where the issues are concerned. And I’d like to begin with Gavin Newsom. So this is for Mr. McCuan, do you think Newsom will go to social issues? Will he emphasize abortion and things like transgender rights?

McCUAN: Yeah, it's gonna be fascinating. And here's why. Gavin Newsom has this portrayal nationally as a guy who's like left of center and like this crazy San Francisco liberal, this this this, you know, Pelosi West Coast kind of crazy. And when you look at the cultural politics and what is going on across the country, this is a fray that he's happily willing to enter. So yes, the politics of abortion and reproductive rights will be front and center. But what will temper some of his remarks are bills he vetoed and how he kind of repositioned himself over the last couple of months, the last quarter of the year, if you will, about being a parent. He's putting forward an idea that he's a new type of Democrat, a sensible Democrat, who, as a parent and a parent of young children, is concerned about what's going on and the choices that are made. So that allows him to pivot away from reproductive politics to then talk about schools and school boards to talk about transgender and where you're going to the bathroom or not going to the bathroom, or what sport you're participating in, to go right into the wheelhouse of those things as a concerned parent to moderate that image of the crazy San Francisco liberal, if you will, because that's the pivot they're trying to make. 

They're trying to both join their electoral image, if you will, their electoral politics. He's got the best people and electoral politics in the country that work for him. And he's trying to temper that or marry that with what he does on the governing side, and how he actually runs the government. That's going to be a difficult thing on issues of homelessness on the visuals of California. Governor DeSantis will certainly talk about that and raise that issue; that allows him to pivot to immigration and the border. But it also allows Governor Newsom to really kind of push forward and talk about the importance of moderation and how he does that will allow him to walk away from kind of some of those progressive elements that they're worried kind of temper their cause. And really, he's not officially running for president until he's chewing on a fried pork chop in Iowa, but as they're moving to that place, until they get to that place, they're going to want to kind of moderate his image somewhat. So pay attention to that during the debate that we're going to see tomorrow.

BUTLER: And Mr. Moreno, what do you expect?

MORENO: Well, I expect DeSantis to defend his social record, his battle with woke corporatism, the "house of the mouse." He will put up his record of defending what he calls the Free State of Florida. So you'll have that conservatism. But I think that he's also going to talk about the Florida economy. Why are people flocking to Florida? Why is Florida being successful when other states aren't? What job creation, cost of living, inflation, these kinds of kitchen table issues he needs to bring out? He needs to talk about his economic successes, his record as Florida Governor. 

Look, I think the mistake that DeSantis made was he won election in 2018, defeating the darling of the Republican Party establishment based solely on Donald Trump's endorsement. He barely won that election, just by 30,000 votes. Two years ago, he won in a 60-40 landslide. And then to run against Donald Trump, when you were selling yourself as Trump’s heir, I think was a mistake. So I think for him, it's an opportunity to sort of recapture this as Trump's successor.

EICHER: Mr. McCuan, do you think that Newsom has anything to lose?

McCUAN: What he has to lose is the degree to which he wants to reinvent his image or paint a different picture of himself, not as that crazy wide eyed San Francisco liberal, but as someone who is more amenable to that median voter, that independent voter and not as offensive to the purple people, as it were, that's that's going to be their goal. But they're also willing to go into the belly of the beast, they're willing to go on Fox and challenge Governor DeSantis and go right in his wheelhouse on several issues. It'll be fascinating to watch, a heck of a lot more interesting to what's happening the following week with the Republican candidates in Alabama.

EICHER: And then Mr. Moreno, what about Ron DeSantis, anything to lose?

MORENO: Absolutely nothing. There's no such thing as bad publicity. I think this is a brilliant move by both men. I think Hannity was great at grabbing it. It begins to set the tone into 2028. And look, I think that it's going to be interesting to see if Newsom can appear as anything but a California liberal, right? And it's gonna be interesting if DeSantis can portray himself more moderate. I think in contrast to Newsom, I don't think you're gonna see any moderation on the part of DeSantis.

BUTLER: Well, David McCuan is a professor at Sonoma State University. And Dario Moreno is an associate professor at Florida International University. Gentlemen, thank you both for your time.

MORENO: Thanks for having us.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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