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2020 Democrats divided over appearing on Fox News

Jay Inslee, Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders. Photos: Getty Images

Some Democratic candidates for president are adding Fox News to their campaign stops as the primary battle heats up, hoping to reach as many potential voters as possible.

Why it matters: The debate among Democrats over whether or how the party should engage with Fox News is sowing division within the party ahead of 2020.

Keeping up with the candidates:

  • "Mayor Pete" Buttigieg appeared on Fox's political morning show "Fox News Sunday" with Chris Wallace on March 17.
  • Washington Gov. Jay Inslee appeared on the network's morning show "Fox and Friends" March 29 to urge President Trump to release his tax returns and to talk about building a clean energy economy.
  • Former tech executive Andrew Yang appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight on March 2 to talk about automation and the future of work, and on The Story with Martha MacCallum on March 20 to discuss his universal basic income proposal.
  • Rep. John Delaney has appeared on Fox at least 8 times since announcing his campaign, including an apperance on The Story in February to discuss courting millennial voters.
  • Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper appeared on Fox in January before officially announcing their candidacies.
  • Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, considering running as an independent, appeared on "Fox and Friends" on Tuesday to discuss the country's mounting debt. The network also hosted a town hall with him on Thursday.

Driving the news: While a growing number of Democrats have appeared on the network over the past few months, it was Sen. Bernie Sanders' announcement last week that he will participate in a Fox News town hall in Pennsylvania on April 15 that has caused the most stir.

What they're saying: Some progressive commentators argue that Democratic candidates, including Sanders, shouldn't give Fox News any air time, given reports about the network's cozy relationship with the Trump administration and criticism that the network provides a platform for white nationalism.

  • Others add that by choosing to appear on Fox News now, candidates are inadvertently promoting the network. Angelo Carusone, president of liberal think tank Media Matters, tweeted that by going on Fox before the network's annual "upfront" ad sales presentation, Sanders is "actively working to help Fox News." (Note: Fox already hosted its upfront presentation in March)
  • But for the candidates appearing on Fox, or choosing to participate in Fox town halls, the argument is that it's important to reach potential voters — whomever they are and regardless of the network through which they consume the news.
“To me, it is important to distinguish Fox News from the many millions of people who watch Fox News. I think it is important to say to those people, 'You know what? I know that many of you voted for Donald Trump, but he lied to you.'"
— Sen. Bernie Sanders said Friday on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah
  • Meanwhile, Republicans are lauding the decision. "Good for Bernie. He may be wrong about everything, but at least he's not as cowardly as the rest of the Dems' 2020 field," Herman Cain tweeted‏ in response to the news of Sanders' town hall.

The big picture: Despite the efforts of presidential hopefuls, the Democratic party is still distancing itself from the network, while trying to be supportive of candidates' decisions.

  • The Democratic National Committee tells Axios that it still doesn't plan to host any debates with Fox News this cycle due an explosive story in the The New Yorker last month about the network's ties to the Trump administration. The decision has drawn criticism from Fox News hosts, who say they're disappointed in the decision.
  • "While the DNC does not believe that Fox is equipped to be a partner for a 2020 debate because of concerns of fairness at the highest levels within their organization, the DNC believes that we must reach all voters, including their audience," DNC spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa told The Daily Beast.
  • Fox News says the DNC should reconsider: “We’re pleased that the DNC agrees with Fox News that successful Democratic presidential candidates must engage directly with FNC’s large and diverse audience through televised town halls. That logic extends to primary debates, so we continue to hope the DNC will reconsider its decision to bar top-notch journalists Bret Baier, Martha MacCallum and Chris Wallace from the debate stage," says Bill Sammon, SVP & Managing Editor – Washington at Fox News.

The bottom line: The consensus among several Democratic strategists that Axios has spoken to is that regardless of Fox's reputation, it's still an important campaign vehicle to reach voters, especially those in the white, working class who may have become disillusioned by President Trump.

“There are millions of highly reasonable and very persuadable voters across this country who watch Fox News, and for Democratic campaigns to ignore avenues for speaking to these Americans is a missed opportunity."
— Niko Duffy, Managing Director at CommonWealth Media