Our next door Ohio senator is calling Democrats in early primary states, collecting staff resumes and touting his political record as he considers 2020.
By Daniel Strauss
Dec 26, 2018 – Sen. Sherrod Brown hasn’t decided whether he’s running for president — but he’s checking off a lot of the boxes that come along the way.
The Ohio Democrat is reaching out to fellow senators and party officials in early primary and caucus states. His team is collecting résumés for potential campaign workers in those states. He is airing a broad campaign theme with a concise slogan — “the dignity of work” — in a rising number of press interviews and TV appearances, and he wants to road-test the theme in speeches or town hall-style events. And Brown’s staff is looking into arranging time for him to visit with former President Barack Obama, who has met with a parade of potential 2020 candidates seeking his counsel in the past year.
And Brown is keenly aware that he has an item on his own résumé shared by few other Democratic candidates: a recent 6-point win in a potential presidential swing state. Apart from judicial candidates, he was the only Democrat to win statewide in Ohio in 2018 despite the “blue wave” that hit the country last month, as Ohio tilts more Republican and some in his party write off the state. That is partly what has convinced Brown to test the presidential waters and see what they’re like.
“Ohio will respond to a message of the dignity of work,” Brown said in an interview. “It’s gonna be harder in 2020 than Michigan and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, but it always has been.”
“Unlike most of my colleagues, I’ve not dreamed of this for years,” Brown said. “I’ve not been to New Hampshire or Iowa since 2014. … I’ve been in Nevada once, in my ’18 race to do something for [Sen.] Catherine Cortez Masto,” Brown continued. “But I have not over the years planned this, and I’m not rushing into it, and I’m not convinced I want to do it yet.”
Still, Brown’s wife, Connie Schultz, recently told POLITICO Magazine that running against President Donald Trump is “all we talk about right now.” Two allies, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and Brown’s former finance director Michael Wager, are trying to push Brown onward with a newly formed presidential draft committee. And members of Brown’s party have also taken note of his swing-state record.
“Ohio is a very tough state for Democrats. The perception is that it’s getting tougher,” said Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic lobbyist who served as a top congressional aide to Dick Gephardt and John Kerry. “And there are some people who say it probably should go off the map for us. If Sherrod were on the ticket, it would be on the map and that makes your electoral map a little easier.”
Brown was short-listed for vice president by Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 but was not selected. Clinton lost the state by 8 percentage points to Trump.
Brown barely registers in current opinion polls about the 2020 Democratic primary; three-quarters of Democrats surveyed in a national Quinnipiac University poll said they didn’t know enough about Brown to register an opinion of him, and he got 1 percent in a recent primary poll by CNN. And he finished his reelection campaign with less campaign money in the bank to kick-start a presidential bid, about $2 million, than other colleagues who have presumably been eyeing 2020 for longer than he has.
But Kathy Sullivan, a former New Hampshire Democratic Party chair whom Brown recently called, said she and other activists are familiar with Brown and have followed his success in Ohio.
“That he would win a state that’s tough for a Democrat … that’s interesting” to people judging potential presidential candidates, Sullivan said.
Brown has also spoken to Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), fitting in some presidential talk among conversation about her taking a seat on the Senate Finance Committee. Tom Vilsack, the former Iowa governor and Obama agriculture secretary, told POLITICO that his wife, Christie, also took a recent call from Brown — part of a stepped-up schedule of political maneuvering that includes the outreach to Obama, Brown said, as well as current and former Democratic National Committee members throughout the early states.
Brown hasn’t visited those states yet, but he is “interested” in bringing his “dignity of work” theme — a shorthand for policies focused on fighting inequality and improving conditions for workers — on the road to test the response.
he does have, stylistically and substantively, something that’s important to watch and learn from,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, adding that Brown is best known for his positions on trade but has carved out a broader record fighting corporate largesse.
“I would actually say it’s more about what he’s taken on about the fairness of how corporate America has dominated our politics and they should not have that big a seat and that dominant a position,” Emanuel said. “Trade is one way of illustrating it. There’s a consistency to Sherrod.”
That consistency has helped Brown win statewide despite major shifts in Ohio’s politics. He clearly thinks it could be a blueprint for a shifting country as well.
“It’s a conservative state. But it’s a state that you can reach people,” Brown said.