On Fox and on the trail, 2020 Democrats work to expand their base

PHOTO: Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a town hall with Fox News Channel, May 18, 2019, in Claremont, New Hampshire.PlaySarah Rice/Getty Images
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Even a few years ago, the tableau might have seemed far-fetched for prime-time political television: a married, gay man running for president, applauded during a town hall on Fox News, after defending his stance on abortion rights.

"I think the dialogue has got so caught up on where you draw the line, that we've gotten away from the fundamental question of who gets to draw the line. And I trust women to draw the line," South Bend, Indiana, Mayor and 2020 Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg told the crowd.

The optics of the Fox News crowd's apparent receptiveness to a Democratic candidate created buzz and another round of optimistic headlines for Buttigieg.

PHOTO: Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a town hall with Fox News Channel, May 18, 2019, in Claremont, New Hampshire. Sarah Rice/Getty Images
Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a town hall with Fox News Channel, May 18, 2019, in Claremont, New Hampshire.

The same was true after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders made his pitch about Medicare for all during a Fox News town hall last month. The audience in the room that night appeared open to his ideas, despite the fact that some Democrats have called them too disruptive or extreme.

The two candidates' appearances on the conservative network took place as 2020 Democratic contenders work to court moderate and swing voters. The move is, in part, an outgrowth of the party's autopsy of the 2016 elections that found that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton neglected and alienated a sizable number of voters in the Rust Belt and purple states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio.

During his town hall over the weekend, Buttigieg acknowledged the debate in the Democratic Party taking place right now about invitations from Fox News. Some have called for an outright boycott, while others say it is vital to meet any voter wherever they may be.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced last week that she would decline a Fox town hall, because, in her words, the network was a "hate-for-profit racket."

Earlier this year, the Democratic National Committee Chair also announced that none of the party's sanctioned 2020 debates would be hosted by the Fox cable network, because of "the inappropriate relationship between President Trump, his administration and Fox News" led the team to believe the cable network could not be neutral.

On the other side of the issue, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who talks often about her success in red and rural parts of her home state of Minnesota, has been willing to go on the cable network frequently.

"I think you have to reach everyone and that includes people that agree with and people that don't agree with you," she told ABC's "The View" last week. "You go not just where it's comfortable with where it's uncomfortable."

Buttigieg on Sunday referenced specific instances of extreme language used by Fox News hosts and said he understood some colleagues "think twice" before engaging with the organization, but added that he, too, like Klobuchar, thinks the party should make an effort to reach as many people as possible.

"There are a lot of Americans who my party can't blame if they are ignoring our message because they will never hear it if we don't go on and talk about it," Buttigieg said on Sunday.

Montana's Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, who entered the race last week, emphasized this point in his announcement video and argued that the ability to speak to any voter was one of his strengths.

"As a Democratic governor in a state Trump won by 20 points, I don't have the luxury of only talking to people who agree with me," he said.

PHOTO: Sen. Bernie Sanders participates in a FOX News Town Hall at SteelStacks, April 15, 2019, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Mark Makela/Getty Images, FILE
Sen. Bernie Sanders participates in a FOX News Town Hall at SteelStacks, April 15, 2019, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

One of Warren's early trips as a presidential candidate was to the Deep South, and several candidates have already spent considerable time in the industrial Midwest.

This past weekend alone, Rep. Eric Swalwell held events focused on gun control in Indiana. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro campaigned in Tennessee and laid out his policies and priorities for public education.

Meanwhile, Sanders went from South Carolina to Georgia and Alabama in two days.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has argued that he has unique crossover appeal too and that he will prioritize purple states President Barack Obama won prior to Trump's 2016 victory. He has not agreed to participate in the Fox News town hall.

At a campaign rally in Philadelphia over the weekend, he talked about working with Republicans, not just messaging in Republican strongholds. He responded directly to those in the party who say Democrats have played too nice with the opposition.

"Now some of these same people are saying, you know, Biden just doesn't get it. You can't work with Republicans anymore. That's not the way it works anymore," Biden said. "Well, folks, I'm gonna say something outrageous: I know how to make government work, not because I've talked or tweeted about it, but because I've done it. I've worked across the aisle to reach consensus."