The Republican Party’s Senate midterm messaging is guided by a pair of Fox News prime-time hosts who also function as GOP kingmakers. Tucker Carlson, as I’ve detailed, used his 8 p.m. show to set the party’s course, urging GOP candidates to focus on “law and order” and brand their Democratic opponents as pro-crime. Sean Hannity, the Trump operative and GOP mouthpiece who also has a TV show, has meanwhile turned the following time slot into a showcase for Republican Senate nominees and a vehicle for opposition research targeting the Democratic candidates.
“Fox News is essentially an arm of the 24-hour public relations channel for Republican Senate candidates,” as MSNBC host Chris Hayes put it Wednesday, and Hannity “is the undisputed king of this stuff.”
Indeed, Hannity has hosted the GOP nominees in the key competitive races of Pennsylvania, Arizona, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Georgia at least 15 times since Labor Day, according to a Media Matters review. Mehmet Oz, the TV personality who owes his Pennsylvania GOP nomination largely to Hannity's support, led the way with four appearances.
Hannity proved Hayes' point on his own show over the next hour, when the Fox host ran back-to-back-to-back-to-back segments targeting four of those races. His segments all followed the same cookie-cutter formula.
The Fox host started by smearing the Democratic nominee, calling Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes “an extreme candidate,” panning Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan for his “radical views,” describing Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman as “probably the most extreme candidate the Democrats are running this election season,” and highlighting the “radical positions” of former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley. On-screen text detailed the Democrats’ “extremism” as Hannity monologued.
Then Hannity brought on the Republican nominee for a cozy interview, and the pair traded taking points. Hannity highlighted how “critical” or “all-important” each race was to the GOP’s chances of taking control of the Senate, and asked whether the opposition research they were reciting was making its way to the voters.
All four Republican nominees used the opportunity to plead for support from Hannity’s viewers.
“I need help from your viewers, RonJohnsonforSenate.com so we can get the truth out about Mandela Barnes so he does not serve in the U.S. Senate,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) told Hannity.
“We need everything that we can get from your viewers, from everybody else, to help us tell the truth about Tim Ryan, because we tell the truth about Tim Ryan, we're going to win this race and win big,” Ohio GOP Senate nominee J.D. Vance offered. “So, I'd encourage everybody, go to JDVance.com, send whatever you can because this guy is trying to lie his way into the U.S. Senate and if he succeeds, he's going to be a rubber stamp for Joe Biden.”
“We're not going to let that happen. So please again, come to DrOz.com. Support our movement. We're going to win this race,” urged Oz.
“I just want to plead, Sean, with you. I want to plead with your supporters out there, with your viewers. Go to TedBudd.com because without them, we can't win this,” said Rep. Ted Budd, the GOP nominee for Senate in North Carolina.
Hannity’s fidelity to the GOP Senate nominees is part of a pattern in which Fox’s prime-time block has devoted significantly more attention to those races than the same hours on CNN and MSNBC.
Hannity’s program is responsible for a sizable percentage of Fox prime time’s Senate focus.
In 2018, Hannity plunged Fox into controversy when he spoke at a Trump rally on the eve of the midterms. Four years later, he’s effectively hosting his own GOP rally every weeknight in prime time.