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DeSantis outpaces Trump in major Republican primary measure: The number of mentions on Fox

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to Iowa voters gathered at the Iowa State Fairgrounds on March 10, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa.    (Scott Olson/Getty Images North America/TNS)
By Anthony Man South Florida Sun Sentinel

Gov. Ron DeSantis has for the first time passed former President Donald Trump in mentions on Fox, the all-important source of information for Republican primary voters, a shift that could have an impact on the contest for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Media Matters for America, the liberal organization that monitors conservative media, reported Tuesday that Fox mentioned DeSantis more often than Trump last week for the first time in 2023.

Fox played a major role in DeSantis’ rise from a junior member of the U.S. House to governor and now contender — all but officially declared — for the Republican presidential nomination.

It’s a favorite venue for DeSantis, and he’s a favored guest for Fox. It was in response to Fox host Tucker Carlson’s questionnaire that DeSantis made presidential campaign news, declaring that he didn’t see that defending Ukraine, which was invaded by Russia, as vital to U.S. interests. Some leading Republicans disagree.

And it was on Saturday night, March 11, where he was the subject of a glowing profile on “One Nation with Brian Kilmeade,” during which DeSantis and Kilmeade played catch on the Dunedin field where DeSantis played Little League baseball.

Until last week, Media Matters reported, Fox personalities and guests mentioned Trump more often than DeSantis every week this year.

For the first 10 weeks of 2023, Fox mentioned Trump at least 1,571 times and DeSantis at least 791 times.

Last week, the score switched to at last 177 mentions of DeSantis and 142 for Trump. DeSantis’ mentions are likely inflated by his nationwide book tour stops and visits to key states in the presidential nominating process.

“Over time, slowly, it will wear into Trump’s base,” said Jim Kane, who has polled for Democratic and Republican clients and is former adjunct professor teaching graduate students in political science at the University of Florida.

Susan MacManus, a retired political science professor at the University of South Florida, where one of her courses was on media and politics, said Fox is enormously influential among Republican voters who watch television.

Fox nighttime host “Tucker Carlson, he’s an opinion leader” for those voters, she said.

Younger voters, regardless of parties, aren’t big television watchers — preferring other ways to get information — so the impact from Fox is limited for them, MacManus said. “The podcasts really seem to be grabbing the young conservatives,” she said.

Since the beginning of this year, DeSantis has appeared on the network seven times, Media Matters said. Trump, by contrast, has not had any appearances this year.

The Murdoch family, which controls Fox and other right-leaning outlets such as the New York Post, has been seen as leading toward DeSantis for some time.

On Nov. 9, the day after the Florida governor won reelection by 19 points last year, the New York Post put him on the front page with a headline proclaiming, “DeFUTURE,” called him a “young GOP star” and relegated the much closer reelection win of the New York governor to a line at the bottom of the page.

The paper’s Nov. 10 cover depicted the former president as “Trumpty dumpty” about to have a great fall. And on Nov. 16 it relegated Trump’s announcement that he’d seek the 2024 presidential nomination to the bottom of the front page with the headline “Florida man makes announcement.”

DeSantis’ book, “The Courage to Be Free,” is published by HarperCollins, part of the Murdoch media empire.

Even before the recent uptick in DeSantis mentions, Trump hasn’t been happy with Fox. He’s labeled it the “RINO Network,” which stands for Republican In Name Only, after court filings showed executives and on-air personalities didn’t believe Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen and disparaged the former president.

In a Presidents Day speech to supporters in West Palm Beach, Trump expressed his displeasure with the channel. “They’re not on board with us. They’re better [than the other cable channels]. They’re not on board with us.”

Close contest

Polling shows a potentially close race for the nomination between Trump and DeSantis.

A CNN poll released Tuesday, showed 40% of Republicans who indicated they might participate in the nominating process cited Trump as their first choice with 36% naming DeSantis as their top choice, effectively a tie.

All other declared or potential candidates were in single digits.

Trump’s backers were enthusiastic, with 76% reporting they’d definitely support him and 59% of DeSantis supporters saying they’d definitely support him.

The CNN poll of 1,045 Republicans and Republican-leading independents was conducted online and by telephone March 8-12 by SSRS. CNN/SSRS said it had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.