As thewas wrapping up Thursday night, a few minutes past the 90-minute mark that was originally agreed upon, Fox News moderator Sean Hannity asked the two whether they'd debate again. After Newsom said he could debate all night, Hannity said he'd extend the debate to a full two hours.
But after a commercial break, Hannity announced that the two were unable to stay longer after all. A DeSantis source who was backstage, as well as another source on the ground not affiliated with either campaign, said Newsom's wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, had walked onto the stage during the last commercial break — after Hannity seemed to have secured an agreement from both governors to continue the debate — and ended the debate on behalf of her husband.
Jennifer Siebel Newsom, according to the DeSantis source, said she had also entered the debate room during breaks to raise issues with how the debate had been going and brought up a remark DeSantis made about her parents' move from California to Florida during the pandemic.
"I was talking to a fellow who had made the move from California to Florida, and he was telling me that Florida is much better governed, safer, better budget, lower taxes, all this stuff, and he's really happy with the quality of life," DeSantis said during the debate. "And then he paused, and he said, 'You know, by the way, I'm Gavin Newsom's father-in-law.'"
DeSantis' and Newsom's teams had separate green rooms backstage next to each other, according to sources with both camps.
"Gavin Newsom got beat so badly last night his wife literally had to throw in the towel for him. It was embarrassing," DeSantis communications director Andrew Romeo said.
But a Newsom aide denied that his wife was the reason for the abrupt end of the debate and said both campaigns wanted to end it at that point. Newsom brought this up to reporters during the spin room after the debate. "I think everybody started panicking on both sides," he said. "So, I think everybody has someplace to be."
The Newsom aide said his team raised several issues with Fox. For one, the printed props DeSantis pulled out on stage were, according to the aide, supposed to be prohibited as part of the ground rules.
DeSantis held up two sheets of paper during the course of the debate. One was a page from the book "Gender Queer," which he called "pornography" that "should not be in schools." The other was a map covered in brown, a poop map. "This is a map of San Francisco," DeSantis said. "There's a lot of plots on that, you may be asking what is that plotting? Well this is an app where they plot the human feces that are found on the streets of San Francisco."
A Fox News spokesperson said that the word "props" was not raised ahead of the debate. "The final agreement simply stated that neither side can use multimedia production. That was an issue about whether each side wanted to do a short production on what makes their individual states great at the start of the debate," the spokesperson said.
Newsom's team also complained that DeSantis talked to his wife, Casey DeSantis, and a staffer during commercial breaks, which had been barred by Fox. Newsom did not interact with staff during the debate, his team said.
DeSantis, according to a Newsom aide, also had a teleprompter that showed questions Hannity would be asking. A Fox News spokesperson denied this, and neither candidate was able to see debate questions before or during the debate.
The California governor's team also said that Hannity had previously said he wouldn't use any multimedia during the debate, and Hannity showed several full-screen graphics comparing records on COVID, homelessness and more between California and Florida. A Fox News spokesperson said Hannity was "very clear" about his plan to use full-screen visuals and "mentioned it numerous times ahead of the debate."
Fox News also said that on the day of the debate, Newsom's team specifically asked that no video sound bites be used, which was a last-minute request that was accommodated ahead of the debate.
In responses to NBC News and Politico, a Fox News spokesperson denied the accusation about a teleprompter for DeSantis and said props were not discussed. Fox News only imposed the condition that neither side could use "multimedia production," and also said that Hannity had clearly stated he would use graphics during the debate.
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