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Newsom challenges Florida’s DeSantis to debate

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Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday challenged his Florida counterpart, Ron DeSantis, to a televised debate, escalating his criticism of Republican governors’ mass transport of migrants to liberal bastions as “reprehensible” and possibly illegal.

“Hey [DeSantis], clearly you’re struggling, distracted, and busy playing politics with people’s lives,” Newsom tweeted Friday afternoon. “Since you have only one overriding need — attention — let’s take this up & debate. I’ll bring my hair gel. You bring your hairspray. Name the time before Election Day.”

On Wednesday evening, DeSantis sent a group of around 50 migrants by plane to Martha’s Vineyard, a Massachusetts playground for wealthy liberals. On Thursday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott bused a group of nearly 100 migrants to Vice President Kamala Harris’ residence in Washington, D.C., ramping up a tactic that GOP governors have turned to in recent months to protest illegal immigration.

“Like millions of Americans, I have been horrified at the images of migrants being shipped on buses and planes across the country to be used as political props,” Newsom said in a letter Thursday to U.S. Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland, urging the Department of Justice to investigate DeSantis’ actions.

Some of the migrants said they had been falsely told they would be transported to Boston, where they could receive work authorizations, Newsom said.

When asked about the letter during an event Friday, DeSantis responded with a quip about Newsom’s hair.

“I think his hair gel is interfering with his brain function,” he said.

Newsom took the opportunity to lay down his challenge to DeSantis, sharing an August tweet in which former CBS News anchor Dan Rather raised the idea of a potential prime-time debate between the two governors, both thought to be harboring presidential ambitions.

“Ratings I bet would be huge. Who would have the courage to show up?” said Rather, who published an article Friday calling DeSantis’ and Abbott’s migrant transports “a shameful stunt.”

DeSantis had not responded publicly as of Friday evening.

For months, Newsom has made a habit of contrasting California’s policies with those of Texas and Florida.

This summer, his reelection campaign ran a television ad in Florida slamming that state’s restrictive abortion policies and a law that forbids instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

“I urge all of you living in Florida to join the fight, or join us in California, where we still believe in freedom — freedom of speech, freedom to choose, freedom from hate and the freedom to love,” Newsom said in the ad.

Newsom has repeatedly denied that he is considering a presidential run, but many political watchers are skeptical, especially as he sets his sights on DeSantis, a potential 2024 GOP candidate.

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