Toward the end of the 2022 midterm elections, Gov. Gavin Newsom wanted to debate — but not his Republican challenger. Instead, he sought to square off with his counterpart on the opposite side of the country, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
A pre-Election Day traditional debate did not materialize between the two governors. Still, they’ve long been sparring — on social media, in interviews and in speeches — as their political clout in their respective parties rises.
And this weekend, as speculations of a potential 2024 White House bid continue for the Republican, DeSantis is heading to the bluer grounds of California.
DeSantis is first scheduled to appear at a sold-out event at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley on Sunday, March 5, to promote his new book, “The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival.” He’s then slated to attend a reception and dinner hosted by the Republican Party of Orange County.
“Ron DeSantis isn’t coming to California to throw shade on Gavin Newsom, that’s just an added benefit,” said Dan Schnur, a former campaign consultant who teaches about political messaging at UC Berkeley and USC. “Make no mistake, though, he’s here for the cash and the connections.”
“But the trip does work to both of their benefits. Both governors get the chance to contrast themselves against someone who their own base can’t stand,” Schnur added.
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The two coastal state governors have butted heads over reproductive health care access, COVID-19 mandates, immigration policies and much, much more, putting their differences aside only in the wake of disasters like last year’s Hurricane Ian.
“They are extremely different ideologically, but when it comes to political positioning and ambition, they are mirror images,” Schnur said. “One of these reasons they might bug each other so much is because of how similar they are in everything but ideology.”
Yet, as DeSantis makes his trip, it’s not just his foil in Newsom that is being highlighted in California.
A recent Berekely IGS survey of registered Republicans found DeSantis to be leading a field of potential and declared 2024 presidential candidates that includes former President Donald Trump, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and former Vice President Mike Pence, respectively. (So far, only Trump and Haley have officially declared their 2024 candidacies.)
While still low, DeSantis’ favorability among voters in Los Angeles and Orange counties was slightly higher than Trump’s, the Berkeley IGS survey found. Trump and DeSantis had the same net favorability results in the Inland Empire; however, Trump had a higher net unfavorable result than DeSantis there, the poll found.
While California these days is a much bluer state than DeSantis’ red Florida, his visit is a reminder that Golden State Republicans still play an outsized role in determining a presidential candidate when it comes to both cash and delegates.
“Those who invest early and largely are going to have a strategic advantage,” said Matt Shupe, a Republican strategist who has worked on multiple statewide campaigns in California.
“The people who are coming out here early and getting in front of important people, like the donors in Orange County, will make a difference,” he said.
That sentiment was echoed by CAGOP Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson who said last month: “I certainly hope we’ll continue to see those who are considering a run for the White House taking California and our voters seriously in deciding who will get to be our Party’s eventual nominee.”
Tickets for the Orange County event ranged from $500 for general admission to $1,500, which includes an autographed copy of the governor’s book and a reception with photo opportunities. By Friday, the event had sold out.
The fundraiser is to support the Orange County GOP’s “2024 Victory campaign,” according to an email to supporters. It is not open to press.
On March 2, Newsom’s office said he had left the state. It was not immediately clear where he went or when he’d be back.
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