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Sean Hannity walks on stage during the Fox Nation's Patriot Awards, Nov. 16, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP) Sean Hannity walks on stage during the Fox Nation's Patriot Awards, Nov. 16, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP)

Sean Hannity walks on stage during the Fox Nation's Patriot Awards, Nov. 16, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP)

Madison Czopek
By Madison Czopek December 1, 2023

Welcoming viewers to the Fox News prime-time "Great Red versus Blue State Debate" between Govs. Gavin Newsom and Ron DeSantis, host Sean Hannity assured his personal politics would not be part of the program. 

"It’s kind of widely known that I am a conservative," Hannity said Nov. 30. "However, tonight I will be moderating this debate. I will not be part of the debate. Our questions tonight will be coming from well-sourced, fact-centered perspectives."

In the 90-minute matchup in Alpharetta, Georgia, Hannity showed at least 20 graphics, with most of them painting California, blue states and Democrats’ leadership in a negative light compared with Florida, red states and Republican leadership. He encouraged DeSantis, who is running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, to push back against Newsom’s attacks. 

Many visuals contained factual information from government sources, including the U.S Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The data Hannity selected often put Newsom on the defensive.

More than an hour into the debate, Hannity invoked his own beliefs about President Joe Biden’s fitness to hold the highest office. 

"Joe Biden is (experiencing) what I believe to be significant cognitive decline," he said. "And, in other words, it’s the toughest job in the world. Is Joe Biden experiencing this cognitive decline? Is it a danger to the country? Do you find when he speaks — what is your reaction to it?"

Hannity did not mention that former President Donald Trump, Biden’s leading 2024 rival according to recent polls, has had his fitness questioned, too. (DeSantis’ campaign has a "Trump Accident Tracker" of Trump blunders.) 

We reached out to Hannity and Fox News for comment but did not hear back.

Graphics, statistics generally favored red states and Florida

Hannity started by showing three charts. First, "Blue state net migration losses," followed by, "Red state net migration gains," and then, "California vs. Florida total net migration." 

"In 2021, 2022, California’s lost 750,000 residents to other states," Hannity said. "Governor DeSantis, during that same two-year period, you gained 454,000 residents from other states. … How do you explain this phenomenon? What’s going on?" 

(Screenshots from Fox News)

In a tax-related question, Hannity showed one graphic of California’s income tax rates — 6% for households with a median income of $84,000 and 13% for people with incomes of more than $1.355 million — side by side with Florida’s nonexistent income tax. He showed another comparing each state’s average property tax rate, sales tax, gasoline tax and corporate income tax. In all but one category (average property tax rate), California’s tax rate was higher. 

(Screenshots from Fox News.)

The two states’ different tax systems make direct comparisons difficult, and the graphics didn’t capture who bears the brunt of the tax burden. A 2018 study, for example, shows that under Florida’s system, lower income households paid a higher percentage of their income in taxes compared with the wealthiest taxpayers. 

Next came a graphic comparing the states’ unemployment rates: 2.8% in Florida and 4.8% in California. These rates are accurate, and since January 2019, California’s unemployment has been higher than the national average, while Florida’s has been lower.

(Screenshots from Fox News.)

On immigration, Hannity spotlighted encounters at the southern border with foreign nationals from six countries. 

"While some migrants I know want to come to America for a better life for themselves and their families — find the American dream," he said. "Others are abusing the asylum process and, in the process, in search of where they’re coming from we are now learning that many are coming from some of our top geopolitical foes."

He then showed a graphic that cited U.S. Customs and Border Protection data "leaked to Fox News." That count showed that Border Patrol agents in fiscal years 2022 and 2023 had encountered thousands of foreign nationals from China, Russia, Afghanistan and Egypt and hundreds of foreign nationals from Iran and Syria at the southern border. An encounter does not necessarily equal an entry into the country, because immigration officials have the discretion to turn away people.

Citizenship data for border encounters is not publicly published for most of the countries Hannity listed, with the exception of Russia and China. For those countries, Hannity’s figures were close to the published data for southern land border encounters between ports of entry during fiscal year 2022 and 2023: 12,587 Russian nationals and 26,019 Chinese nationals. 

(Screenshot from Fox News)

Hannity asked: "What are the odds that Biden’s open borders have allowed terrorists and terrorist cells unvetted into this country? Is that a clear and present danger to every American?" 

DeSantis answered, "The odds are 100%. Of course our enemies are going to take advantage of this."

When Hannity asked Newsom if he saw the same dangers, Newsom responded that he supported border security and that the asylum system is broken.

For a question about gun ownership laws, Hannity pulled rankings from Everytown for Gun Safety. On one online list in 2023, the gun control advocacy group ranked states by "gun law strength," putting California at No. 1.

The language in Hannity’s graphic said California ranked No. 1 for the "most restrictive" gun laws, while Florida ranked No. 19. It also said California had more mass shootings than Florida since 2019.

Newsom didn’t address Hannity’s question about why California had more mass shootings. Newsom said when it comes to overall gun deaths, Florida "has a 66% higher gun death rate" than California, which isn’t far off.

How Hannity talked to Newsom, DeSantis

Twice in the first 15 minutes, Hannity said Newsom had not directly answered a question about why blue states have seen net migration losses while red states have seen net migration gains. Newsom hadn’t addressed the question head on, but it wasn’t the only time he or DeSantis avoided giving an answer. Hannity pressed Newsom to answer questions more often than he did for DeSantis.

About 16 minutes into the debate, Hannity interrupted Newsom, who had mentioned the Biden administration, to ask, "Is Joe Biden paying you tonight? I thought this was state versus state." 

A little more than an hour into the program, Hannity prompted DeSantis to respond to Newsom’s claim about Florida’s "book-banning binge" under DeSantis.

"First, governor, Yes or no: Are the book bans … is that a state issue or a local issue?" Hannity asked DeSantis, who replied: "It’s local."

When DeSantis tried to say more, Hannity cut him off, "OK, that’s all I want to know." Hannity then asked Newsom about specific books conservatives have alleged are inappropriate for schools.

(Screenshot from Fox News)

After showing a graphic of education statistics, Hannity asked: "Gov. Newsom, what is your explanation? You spend more money, and they have better results in Florida. Why?"

On abortion, Hannity introduced a question by saying Newsom had been "unwilling to answer" questions about whether he supports any restrictions on abortion access. 

Hannity did not bluntly ask DeSantis whether he would support or sign a national six-week abortion ban as president (something Newsom questioned DeSantis about). 

Hannity more gently asked DeSantis about Florida’s abortion ban: "You had a 15-week rule in (Florida), you reduced it to six. My question is this: What was your thinking behind it? Was it for religious reasons? Was it for scientific reasons? What was the reason for you, from going from 15 weeks to six weeks?"

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Our Sources

Post on X, Nov. 20, 2023

Politico, Hannity wants a red vs. blue state debate. Newsom and DeSantis have other plans, Nov. 27, 2023

Variety, Sean Hannity Aims to Keep His Opinion Out of Fox News’ Newsom-DeSantis Debate: ‘The Less of Me, Probably, the Better,’ Nov. 28, 2023

Email exchange with Nathan Click, a spokesperson for Gavin Newsom, Nov. 30, 2023

Fox News, The Great Red vs. Blue State Debate, Nov. 30, 2023

Everytown for Gun Safety, Gun Safety Policies Save Lives, accessed Nov. 30, 2023

CNN, Trump’s verbal slip-ups threaten his argument about Biden, Nov. 2, 2023

CNN, ​​From a sister to advisers: The litany of people once close to Trump questioning his fitness for office, Aug. 24, 2020

Axios, Trump has his own age problem as he mocks 80-year-old Biden's fitness, Oct. 31, 2023 

PolitiFact, The Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom economies, in 8 charts, Nov. 29, 2023

DeSantis War Room post on X, Oct. 24, 2023

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

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Hannity said he’d leave his beliefs out of the DeSantis-Newsom debate. His charts hinted otherwise.