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(NewsNation) — Two rising stars in both the Democratic and Republican parties — Govs. Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom — duked it out Thursday in a 90-minute Fox News debate moderated by Sean Hannity.
So, who won? Depends on who you ask, of course.
“That debate was a pure, straight-up audition” by Newsom for president, said Nina Turner, a former Democratic Ohio state senator. “He did a very good job during the audition.”
Turner appeared alongside Sam Nunberg, a DeSantis supporter and political consultant, Friday on “CUOMO” to debate the debate.
While DeSantis trails former President Donald Trump in the polls for the Republican presidential nomination, Nunberg believes DeSantis is the one candidate who can beat incumbent Democrat Joe Biden in the general election.
“What you saw last night was the Ron DeSantis of 2022. This primary process has really crowded him out,” Nunberg said. “He was the clear winner. He was the clear winner in the Republican primary, too, because if you look it was the one time where Ron DeSantis since the day of his announcement was able to control and have all the oxygen.”
During the debate, the big-state governors were eager to represent their parties on the national stage as they battled over the economy, pandemic restrictions and Biden’s leadership in a faceoff peppered with fiery policy disputes and personal insults.
The California Democrat defended his state, but was equally eager to shift the discussion to DeSantis’ stagnant 2024 presidential bid.
“How’s that going for you, Ron? You’re down 41 points in your own home state,” said Newsom, who is backing Biden for president. “Neither of us will be the nominee for a party in 2024.”
Marc Lotter, a former special assistant to Trump, said there doesn’t seem to have been any upside for either governor.
“I think Gavin Newsom had it right: Neither of them are going to be their party’s nominee in 2024, so what were they doing? You know, if you like radical progressive policies, move to California; if you don’t, move to the free state of Florida. It’s a pretty either or choice and people can judge for themselves,” Lotter said Friday on “NewsNation Now.” “It made for good television, but I’m not sure if it did anything to help Ron DeSantis politically in this campaign.”
Newsom suggested DeSantis drop out of the race to give a better chance to Nikki Haley, who is currently polling third in national averages. But both DeSantis and Haley appear to be competing for second place, as Trump maintains a nearly 50-point lead over DeSantis.
“I really don’t think anyone on that debate stage can do anything to stop the momentum that Donald Trump has,” Lotter said. “The only thing you can position yourself for is possibly if you’re Nikki Haley maybe for the vice presidency, and if you are Ron DeSantis, maybe for 2028 or something else. But this thing is basically a done deal right now when you look at these polls, and nothing is changing.”
As DeSantis and Newsom lobbed insults at the other, their body language told a story, too, says Patti Wood, a body language expert.
She said DeSantis’ smiles came off as not genuine, a frequent critique of the governor during his debate performances.
“DeSantis normally … has a subtle internal smile … so (his campaign) told him ‘you’ve got to smile,’ and so he’s putting enormous effort into it, overextending, but he can’t keep it on his because it’s not how he’s truly feeling,” Wood said Friday on “On Balance.” “It looks plastered on.”
In contrast, she described Newsom as having a “resting smiling face.” It’s how he responded when DeSantis claimed that Newsom’s father-in-law told him Florida is a well-run state.
“You also saw (Newsom’s) whole body respond as if he was having a good time with this, this doesn’t bother me at all,” Wood said. “You saw him go up as he was smiling and just kind of move much more smoothly rather than a stiff-held body and then trying to smile, where those two things don’t match and align.”
DeSantis, a 45-year-old Republican governor elected to his second and final term last fall, is grasping for momentum in a 2024 campaign plagued by missteps in his bid to defeat former President Donald Trump, who remains the overwhelming front-runner in the GOP primary.
Newsom, California’s 56-year-old term-limited Democratic governor, has positioned himself to seek the presidency someday, but like the rest of his party’s most ambitious leaders, he declined to challenge Biden for the Democratic nomination in 2024. Instead, he’s emerged as a leading defender of Biden and a formal campaign adviser.
Personal attacks aside, Turner said the debate was a breath of fresh air.
“The beautiful thing about last night is we got to see two governors, one from Florida the other from California, really have a robust debate about what is happening in their states and what’s happening in America,” she said, “and we need more of it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.