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Newsom vs. DeSantis: How to watch Thursday’s prime-time debate

A composite image of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, and Gov. Gavin Newson, right wearing suits and speaking on a podium.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom are squaring off in a prime-time debate on Fox News. | Source: Scott Eisen/Getty Images & Justin Katigbak/The Standard

Ready for some popcorn viewing—and a possible sneak peek at what's to come in national politics?

On Thursday night, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis—two ambitious politicians from polar-opposite political camps—will go toe-to-toe in an unusual prime-time debate.

Republican DeSantis, who was once viewed as an heir apparent to former President Donald Trump, is angling for the White House but lagging in the polls. Newsom, a Democrat now in his second term as California governor, is widely expected to make his own run for the presidency at some point in the future, recently staging high-profile trips to China and Israel in a bid to burnish his bona fides.

There's no love lost between the two rival governors, to put it mildly. Last year, Newsom ran television ads in Florida slamming the state for restricting abortion and other liberties. Earlier this year, DeSantis used San Francisco's notorious Tenderloin neighborhood as an example of liberal policies gone wrong—and earlier this week, he delivered a backhanded compliment in telling an audience that California has "potential."

During the televised debate Thursday, Newsom and DeSantis may touch on a range of issues that exemplify their differing politics—abortion, homelessness, drug addiction and health care.

Whether you’re genuinely rooting for one of these governors, partaking in some morbid curiosity or have to tune in because of work obligations (ahem), the 90-minute spectacle is likely to churn out some good TV—albeit how much actual substance it’ll have is unclear.

That’s because both Newsom and DeSantis are not above name-calling and needling each other, besides actually talking about their state’s most glaring issues — crime, education and more.

There’s also no dearth of political analysis as to what could result from the face-off. Even if no winner is declared at the end of the night, Thursday’s event will provide good fodder to fire up both party’s bases. The timing is especially notable for DeSantis since he’s campaigning to be the next GOP presidential nominee. While Newsom remains loyal to President Joe Biden, he’s still a potential presidential candidate in 2028, and does not shy away from opportunities to raise his national and international profile.

The debate airs on Fox News at 9 p.m. ET and will be hosted in Alpharetta, Georgia. But San Francisco locals who want to catch the action with a crowd can join a viewing party at Manny's cafe in the Mission. The event will feature a post-debate discussion with Politico's Dustin Gardiner. Likewise, the United Democratic Club is hosting a watch party in the Mission.

The debate will be presented by the conservative Fox News anchor Sean Hannity, who will question the two about the economy, the border, immigration, crime and inflation. The debate will be presented without an audience, but Hannity will provide live reactions from a panel of guests following the debate, according to a press release from Fox News.

Annie Gaus can be reached at annie@sfstandard.com