Presidential Campaigns Snapping Up TV News Personalities for Key Roles
Fox News contributor Marie Harf is the latest to leave cable news to become a staffer on a 2020 campaign.
With the field of Democratic presidential candidates seemingly growing by the day, campaigns are increasingly turning to television news when hiring for key roles.
Marie Harf, who served in Barack Obama's State Department before joining Fox News as a contributor in January 2017, said on May 8 that she's leaving the network to join Democratic congressman Seth Moulton's upstart presidential campaign as deputy campaign manager for policy and communications.
"Joining a campaign that's focused a lot on national security is really a return to my roots, because my background is in foreign policy and politics and not actually in cable news," Harf told The Hollywood Reporter in an email. "I do think that my time appearing on shows where I'm debating conservative guests has given me a wider picture about the electorate and what it will take to beat Donald Trump in 2020."
Harf, who co-hosted a show for Fox News Radio and appeared often on the afternoon talk show Outnumbered, was seen as one of the stronger voices representing the Democratic Party perspective on the network. "She's great," Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera said of Harf last August.
Republican political strategist Steve Schmidt was the first cable news personality to give up an on-air role to consult with a potential presidential candidate: He left his perch as an MSNBC contributor to strategize with former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who is still weighing a bid.
Joe Biden's presidential campaign has already snapped up two television newsers for key roles, including CNN contributor Symone Sanders, who rose to national prominence as spokesperson for Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign.
"For me it's different because I came from campaigns. That's what I do," Sanders told THR. "I needed to go on the campaign trail. I didn't want to sit this election out. And I knew it would put me in a better position if I ever decided to go back to the cable news side."
As a senior adviser to Biden's campaign, Sanders said she will still make regular television appearances across cable news channels, including CNN, but not nearly as frequently. "Everybody asked when I joined the campaign, 'Would I just be doing TV?' and I said, 'No, I used to sit in the studio for way more money and way less stress,'" she said.
"Marie and Symone are very much in the prime of their careers and will be in demand to work on campaigns and inside the government for many years to come," said Brian Fallon, who was named a CNN contributor after working on Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign as press secretary.
The Biden campaign also poached NBC News senior communications director T.J. Ducklo to serve as national press secretary. "I wanted to do more to stop the lies and hate" coming from the White House, he said, adding, "I've also always heard there's nothing quite like the pace of a presidential campaign."
Sanders said that cable news companies have increased the number of political strategists that they employ as on-air contributors, owing to the fast pace of the news cycle and the need to respond quickly to developments. "It's not usually like this," she said.
"The reason these people are sought out in the first place by the cable networks is because they have experience at the center of decision-making within campaigns and thus can give an insider's perspective to the wider network audience," explained Fallon. "But, even if these types of operatives may do stints as contributors in between election cycles, it is not at all surprising they would dive back into campaigns directly."
Sanders is hoping to have the opportunity to work in a Joe Biden-run White House. And if he doesn't win? She added, "I'm 29, not 40, so I think I'll have my opportunity to go back to cable news sometime again."