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Local political experts opine on Thursday's Newsom vs. DeSantis debate

They are not running against each other for office, but Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will face off tonight in a 90-minute debate on the Fox News Channel beginning at 6:00 p.m PST.

It's event that UC San Diego political science professor Thad Kousser called "an early look at the future, potentially, of both parties," adding, "This could be a preview of the 2028 presidential race."

Newsom challenged DeSantis to the debate a year ago.

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Ahead of the debate, KPBS talked with Kousser and another longtime local political science professor, Carl Luna, now a visiting professor of political science at the University of San Diego.

“You’ve got two governors that probably aren’t going to have a shot in 2024, trying to position themselves as frontrunners in their respective parties, bearers of the party tradition for 2028," Luna said.

“It’s also a debate between the governing visions of California and the governing visions of Florida, and seeing a full-throated defense of each of those that can help us decide, 'Well, what state do we want to live in and what vision do we want for the nation going forward?'” Kousser said.

“This could be an opportunity too for a good point-by-point comparison on health care, on education, on LGBTQ rights, on border and immigration, on housing costs," Luna said.

Or he said, it could be something else.

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“I think it’s going to degenerate into something much more personal," Luna said. "So, that seems to be the way these things go these days.”

Kousser said, “I think both candidates will be trying to get under the other’s skin. It’s clear that these are two people who don’t have a lot of professional respect for each other."

Luna said there’s really no down side for Newsom here, as he’s insisted he’s not going to get into the 2024 race. The stakes, he said, are much higher for DeSantis, who’s been slipping in the polls for weeks.

The 2024 primary election is March 5. Find in-depth reporting on each race to help you understand what's on your ballot.