Democratic candidates look to stand out from the pack on Fox News town halls

As Democratic presidential candidates vie to maximize their media coverage, the question of whether candidates should hold a Fox News town hall has become a litmus test on the campaign trail.

The most prominent candidate who has refused to participate is Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who called Fox News “a hate-for-profit racket.” Warren said she was concerned that the influx of viewers to Democratic town halls allows Fox to persuade advertisers with high ratings. Additionally, Warren said she did not want to amplify the voices of Fox’s controversial opinion hosts, such as Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingram, both of whom have support from white supremacists.

While it was also reported that Sen. Kamala Harris will not have a Fox News town hall, nor will she appear on the network, most other candidates are in favor of appearing on the network to appeal to a more ideologically diverse audience.

As of June, these five Democrats have participated in a town hall on the network.

Sen. Cory Booker said he would be open to appearing on the network and when asked about having a town hall, Beto O’Rourke said he would “absolutely” do it. Additionally, John Delaney fired back on Twitter over Warren’s decision not to hold a town hall with Fox.

Buttigieg attempted to play both sides of the debate. During his town hall, he empathized with Warren and Harris’ concerns about appearing on the network at all. However, he has also said Democrats “[have] to find people where they are, not change our values, but update our vocabulary so we’re truly connecting with Americans from coast to coast.”

Right before the town hall aired, President Trump tweeted that Fox is “wasting airtime on Mayor Pete.” He then went on to say that “Fox is moving more and more to the losing (wrong) side in covering the Dems.”

Trump and Fox have a uniquely close relationship. Journalist Jane Mayer recently wrote an article in the New Yorker detailing the multitude of Fox-Trump contacts and controversies. While it is apparent they have a symbiotic relationship, it is unclear who leads the other. Nevertheless, each promotes the other in what is an unprecedented alliance between a news outlet and the White House.

Jerry Taylor, founder of the Niskanen Center, told Mayer that “in a hypothetical world without Fox News, the evidence put forth in the Mueller report would be the end of Trump’s presidency. “But, with Fox News covering his back with the Republican base, he has a fighting chance, because he has something no other President in American history has ever had at his disposal—a servile propaganda operation,” Taylor said.

Gillibrand’s town hall was also of note, as she and moderator Chris Wallace argued over her critique of the network. She condemned the network’s disproportionate coverage of abortion bills in Virginia and New York and charecterization of the bills as “infanticide.” Before Gillibrand could finish her statement, Wallace interrupted her and said, “I understand that, maybe, to make your credentials with the Democrats who are not appearing on Fox News you want to attack us. I’m not sure, frankly, it’s very polite when we’ve invited you to be here.” After Wallace’s objection, Gillibrand continued to chastise the network’s behavior.

Sanders held his first town hall on Fox back in April. An estimated 2.55 million viewers tuned in, almost double the 1.35 million viewers Sanders received at his CNN town hall held a month earlier.

While candidates such as  Warren and Harris have rejected participating in the Fox ecosystem, polls show that Democratic voters are less concerned with the issue. According to a recent POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, more than 60 percent of Democrats think it is acceptable to appear on Fox. Only 17 percent thought it would be “inappropriate” to do so.

Both sides of this debate can be advantageous for candidates. If they decline to participate, they gain media attention and are seen as standing up to a hostile network. If they appear on Fox, however, they can reach an entirely new audience that other Democratic candidates are not privy to. Democratic Strategist John Lapp put it best when he told POLITICO, “When you’ve got enough Democratic presidential campaigns to field two soccer teams, you need to take basically any media exposure you can get, whenever and wherever you can get it.”

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