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Sanders May Debate Trump, Not Clinton, Before California Contest

An unconventional debate between a billionaire Republican and a democratic socialist is shaping up in California after presidential candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders expressed an interest in squaring off against each other.

Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, is still in a primary battle against Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, while Trump effectively clinched the Republican Party’s nomination earlier this month when his two remaining rivals dropped out.

In an appearance on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” late Wednesday, Trump said he was willing to participate in such an event against Sanders.

“If I debated him, we would have such high ratings,” the New York developer and reality television star said. “I think I should … take that money and give it to some worthy charity.”

Sanders appeared to agree in a post on Twitter on Thursday.

“Game on,” he tweeted. “I look forward to debating Donald Trump in California before the June 7 primary.”

Trump and Sanders have gone through a series of debates against rivals within their parties but Republican and Democratic presidential candidates usually do not debate each other until the parties have selected a nominee.

The hashtag #BernieTrumpDebate began trending in the United States with news of the possible debate.

Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said in an email to Reuters on Thursday there were no formal plans yet for such an event. Representatives for the Sanders campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Kimmel said he asked Trump about the debate at the suggestion of Sanders, who is scheduled to appear on the show Thursday night.

Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist who was elected to Congress as an independent and has made economic equality a keystone of his campaign, had first challenged Clinton to a California debate. He said he was disappointed when the former secretary of state declined. The Clinton campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment to a possible Trump-Sanders debate.

Clinton has tried to woo Sanders supporters as she works to secure the party’s nomination for the Nov. 8 election. But some worry his supporters – who are largely young, working-class and disillusioned with party establishment – will turn instead to political neophyte Trump, who has championed a populist agenda.

Sanders has said he will do everything he can to ensure that Trump does not win the White House.

 

Reporting by Megan Cassella; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Trott

Photo: A woman wearing a hat with the word “Bernie” smiles towards a man wearing a hat stating “Trump” as they stand in line-up to take part in a campaign rally for U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at Saint Mary’s Park in Bronx, New York March 31, 2016.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson 

After Trump Pulls Out, Fox News Cancels Republican Debate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Republican presidential debate scheduled for next week in Utah has been canceled, host Fox News said on Wednesday, after party front-runner Donald Trump told the network he would not participate.

Trump, who has clashed with Fox News throughout his campaign, told the network in an interview on Wednesday he would not appear at the event, scheduled for Monday, because he thought the Republicans had “had enough debates.”

Ohio Governor John Kasich said afterward he would also skip the debate unless Trump changed his mind and decided to come.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, the third remaining Republican candidate seeking the party’s nomination for the Nov. 8 presidential election, criticized Trump on Twitter, calling him #DuckingDonald and urging his supporters to tell Trump to attend.

“He’s scared to debate,” Cruz said in an interview on Fox News. “He’s afraid of being challenged.”

Fox News, part of the Twenty-First Century Fox Inc broadcast media and entertainment company controlled by Rupert Murdoch, earlier this week announced the debate, to be held in Salt Lake City, its latest in the primary season. Utah holds its presidential primary next Tuesday.

“Ted Cruz has expressed a willingness to debate Trump or Kasich – or both. But obviously, there needs to be more than one participant,” Fox News Channel’s executive vice president of news, Michael Clemente, said in a statement. “So the Salt Lake City debate is canceled.”

After the cancellation, Trump posted on Twitter that he would make a “big speech” the night of the debate, “but I wish everyone well.”

The brash New York billionaire skipped a Fox News debate in Iowa in January after complaining he had been mistreated by the network. He has long clashed with anchor Megyn Kelly and revived criticism of her on Tuesday, saying on Twitter she was “crazy” and “unwatchable.”

The Iowa debate went on as scheduled, despite Trump’s decision to host a rally at the same time. But back in January, the Republican field was much larger, with Trump among eight contenders who qualified to participate in the Iowa debate, and four others qualifying for an earlier “undercard” debate.

Wednesday marked the first time either party has canceled a debate.

 

Record Ratings

Trump’s participation in the debates has helped networks draw record audiences. Two previous debates this election cycle hosted by Fox News attracted the two largest U.S. audiences for non-sports cable TV programs in history.

Some 24 million Americans tuned in for the first Republican presidential debate last August, while another in Detroit earlier this month attracted 16.9 million viewers.

In February, CBS Chief Executive Les Moonves spoke candidly about the advertising money the Republican front-runner was bringing to the network.

“The money’s rolling in and this is fun,” Moonves said at a telecommunications conference in San Francisco, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

“I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us,” Moonves said. “Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”

 

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu and Eric Beech; Editing by Leslie Adler and Peter Cooney)

Photo: Donald Trump talks to supporters during a campaign rally at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa. REUTERS/Steve Nesius