There’s little doubt California Gov. Gavin Newsom got what he wanted from the unique red state/blue state debate he staged in late November with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
But each for his own reasons, both men skirted the key point in the energetic Fox TV exchange where moderator Sean Hannity continually brought up the so-called “California exodus,” which saw about 750,000 residents depart this state in 2021-22.
Not even Newsom mentioned there was also an influx of about 475,000 new residents, meaning the net population loss amounted to about 300,000.
This was just one of Hannity’s failings in a debate where he allowed the two contestants to shout over one another constantly, whining that “I don’t want to be a hall monitor.”
But the elephant in the room was never mentioned by anyone, even though every academic study shows it has been by far the main reason for emigration from California over the past 10 years.
That is, the price of real estate, both to buy and to rent.
Right now, the median home price in California, including condominiums and other types of homes approaches $900,000. In Florida, it is considerably below half that at $415,000.
This means a typical Californian selling out before leaving can buy a larger new home in Florida for less than half what they’ve gotten for their former place. They can then live well on the remainder, or the interest on it, for years to come.
That’s if the properties are owned outright. If mortgages are involved, house payments, like rents, will be much smaller in Florida.
But in this debate, Hannity, Newsom and DeSantis preferred to pretend political and societal factors like homelessness, book banning, tax rates and abortion policy are the main reasons for the interstate population exchange, which has in fact been nearly even over the last 18 months.
One reason for this switch from the previous two years, when Florida drew more from California than the other way around, is that many employers now demand workers spend at least part of their week in an office rather than working strictly at home.
When workers have total freedom of location, they head where prices are lower, if other conditions are similar. That’s what really sent many thousands of Californians to new locales.
But since wages are higher in California than in places like Florida and Texas, the trend slowed when many employers began asking workers to be physically present at least sometimes.
Neither governor wanted this to come up as they debated.
It’s not comfortable for DeSantis to admit pay is higher in California. It is equally discomfiting for Newsom to discuss the ultra-high home prices and rents that contribute both to homelessness and the current massive movement of young adults toward moving back in with parents.
Yes, the governors lobbed insults back and forth as if they were playing verbal catch in someone’s backyard rather than performing in a TV studio before almost 5 million viewers.
There was also the possibility this was a preview of the 2028 presidential race, when both men will have been termed out almost two years from their current jobs.
What did Newsom get from all this? After spending about one-third of his time defending President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on a network where neither gets many positive words, he emerged clearly as their No. 1 surrogate.
This sets him up to begin collecting political chits around the county as a leading Democratic campaigner and fundraiser, things that could be very useful in a 2028 presidential run.
He also strongly reinforced his record of refusing to be bullied, just as he did when easily beating back the 2021 recall effort against him.
Such a stand-up reputation could be important if he ever runs for a job where he’d have to contend with international strongmen like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Iran’s ayatollahs.
So even with the elephant left sitting huge and silent in the room, Newsom got what he needed from this debate. What more could he ask from a brief trip to Georgia.
Email Thomas Elias at [email protected].