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DeSantis agrees to debate Newsom, defends pro-life credentials amid criticism

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gives a victory speech after defeating Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rep. Charlie Crist during his election night watch party at the Tampa Convention Center on November 8, 2022, in Tampa, Florida. DeSantis was the projected winner by a double-digit lead.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gives a victory speech after defeating Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rep. Charlie Crist during his election night watch party at the Tampa Convention Center on November 8, 2022, in Tampa, Florida. DeSantis was the projected winner by a double-digit lead. | Octavio Jones/Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has agreed to debate California Gov. Gavin Newsom as the two states continue to take divergent paths.

DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, appeared on Fox News’ “Hannity” Wednesday. Host Sean Hannity opened the segment with DeSantis by recalling that during a previous interview with Newsom, he floated the idea of the Democrat California governor engaging in a one-on-one debate with DeSantis as both continue to tout their respective states as models for the nation to emulate. Newsom described himself as “all in” to participate in such a debate, which Hannity would moderate.

When Hannity followed up and asked if he would “do a two-hour debate with Ron DeSantis,” Newsom responded, “I would make it three.” Hannity elaborated on the topics that he would focus on in the debates, which would highlight “major political and philosophical divides in this country,” such as the “mass immigration from blue states to red ones” as well as the differing tax, immigration and energy policies between the states.

DeSantis answered in the affirmative when asked if he would debate Newsom: “Absolutely. I’m game. Let’s get it done. Just tell me when and where. We’ll do it.”

The Florida governor and presidential candidate used his platform on primetime television to tout his record as leader of the nation’s third-largest state: “In one respect, the debate between California and Florida … has already been had. As you suggest, people have been voting on that. They have been voting on it with their feet. They have fled California in record numbers. Florida has been the number one state for net in-migration. We have the number one-ranked economy, number one now in education, the crime rate at a 50-year low.”

“In another sense, this is the debate for the future of our country,” he added. “You have people like Joe Biden, they would love to see the Californication of the United States. Biden may not even be the nominee, you could have Gavin Newsom.”

In addition to the differences in economic policy, DeSantis said California and Florida have responded to hot-button social issues in different ways. While DeSantis signed into law a six-week abortion ban earlier this year, California voters approved a constitutional amendment enshrining a right to abortion in the state's constitution last year.

Similarly, as Florida has banned disfiguring sex-change procedures for minors, California has established itself as one of 14 states that have implemented measures protecting access to such procedures.

DeSantis’ excitement to debate Newsom comes as the candidate faces criticism for suggesting in an interview with Megyn Kelly that he would be “a leader with a bully pulpit ... to help local communities and states advance the cause of life” and describing the pro-life movement as “bottom-up.” When asked if he would support a federal abortion ban, DeSantis vowed, “I’ll always come down on the side of life” while stating, “I don’t have much confidence that Congress is going to do anything meaningful in this regard.”

“In a federalist system ... you have differences of opinions, and that stuff gets filtered out. But clearly, right now, you are going to see different states go in different directions and I understand that,” he added. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life advocacy group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, issued a statement decrying DeSantis’ comments: “A pro-life president has a duty to protect the lives of all Americans. He should be the National Defender of Life.”

According to Dannenfelser, “The American people have expressed a clear consensus for protecting babies in the womb at least by the point they can feel pain at 15 weeks, while allowing states to enact stronger protections. The pro-life movement and the American people deserve a president who will boldly advocate this consensus and will work to gather the votes necessary in Congress.”

“Gov. DeSantis’ dismissal of this task is unacceptable to pro-life voters,” she insisted. “A consensus is already formed. Intensity for it is palpable and measurable. There are many pressing legislative issues for which Congress does not have the votes at the moment, but that is not a reason for a strong leader to back away from the fight. This is where presidential leadership matters most.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence, another contender for the Republican presidential nomination, shared a link to Dannenfelser’s statement on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, attempting to differentiate himself from his competitor by promising to “always champion protections for the unborn in states across the country and in our nation’s Capital” if elected president.

Speaking to Newsmax in New Hampshire Wednesday, DeSantis defended his pro-life credentials, characterizing himself as “the only candidate running that has actually delivered pro-life protections and got those enacted.” He reiterated that “as president, I’m pro-life. I’ll come down on the side of life.” DeSantis took a veiled shot at his rivals by telling the news outlet, “Let’s just be clear here about all this: Some people talk, I act.”

Electorally speaking, DeSantis massively overperformed in his 2022 re-election bid, securing a second term by more than 19 percentage points in a state former President Donald Trump won by slightly more than 3 points in the 2020 presidential election. By contrast, Newsom underperformed, winning re-election by less than 20 percentage points in a state Biden carried by more than 29 points.

The current RealClearPolitics average of polls measuring voter intentions in the Republican primaries, based on surveys conducted from July 12-30, shows Trump with 53.9% and DeSantis in a distant second at 18.1%. All other candidates, including Pence, fail to make it out of the single digits.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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