Sherrod Brown: I might run for president

The difference between the Democratic 2020 field and a clown car is that eventually the clown car runs out of clowns.

At the rate we’re going, there may be Democratic state assemblymen jumping into the race the day before the Iowa caucuses.


Brown should be a serious contender. I’m not sure he will be.

In an interview with, Brown said that he’s heard from an “overwhelming” number of people who have told him he should think of a presidential run, and that he and his family intend to discuss it over the holidays, when his children and grandchildren will be around…

Brown said he believes the message of worker empowerment that he espoused in this year’s re-election should be a blueprint for the national Democrats to win back the White House in 2020 and that he’d be happy if his message is adopted by other people running for president.

“My message clearly appeals to Democrats, Republicans and independents,” said Brown. “We showed you can get votes by being authentic and standing up for workers. People in Washington don’t understand the dignity of work.”

A brief history of Ohio statewide politics since Obama narrowly defeated Romney there in 2012:

President: Republican Donald Trump wins easily by eight points in 2016
Governor: Republican John Kasich wins easily by 31 points in 2014
Governor: Republican Mike DeWine wins by four points in 2018
Senator: Republican Rob Portman wins easily by 21 points in 2016
Senator: Democrat Sherrod Brown wins by six points in 2012 and by six again in 2018 over two tough Republican challengers


Which doesn’t belong and why?

Brown isn’t just a Democrat, he’s a full-spectrum progressive. Although Ohio is a reddening state, his Trump-ish protectionism has kept him in the good graces of working-class white voters there. After Trump blew up the blue wall in the Rust Belt two years ago, Dems wrung their hands about finding a “white guy from the midwest” who could compete with him there while also keeping Berniebros satisfied on ideological grounds. Well, here you go: Brown is seemingly the last leftist who can win in a state that used to be as much of a toss-up every year as Florida.

Last year when assessing their Democratic “power rankings” for 2020, National Journal put him all the way up at number three:

He has Bernie’s politics (if anything, he’s further left on cultural issues) and Joe Biden’s midwestern pedigree. What he doesn’t have is anything remotely approaching the name recognition of either, which is why I’m skeptical of his chances. When was the last time either party nominated someone for president who wasn’t either (a) the frontrunner going in or (b) stupendously personally charismatic, simply radiating star power? Go back through the cycles. 2016? ‘Nuff said. 2012? Romney was the frontrunner. 2008? Obama was the ultimate celebrity candidate until Trump and McCain was the closest thing the GOP had to a frontrunner. 2004? Kerry was the frontrunner, especially because of his war record. 2000? Gore was the sitting VP, Dubya was the GOP frontrunner. Keep going if you like.


The point is, for all his strengths Brown isn’t a Beto-esque phenomenon on the stump and he’s not remotely a frontrunner, particularly if big names like Biden and Sanders enter the race. He couldn’t even claim the mantle of progressivism for himself if he jumped in, as Bernie could against Clinton. Most of the top contenders will be running as progressives next year. Brown’s pitch will necessarily have to be a form of identity politics, with geography bundled into the normal mix of identity attributes. Sure, you can nominate a better-known leftist by choosing Sanders or Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren. Or sure, you could nominate a Rust Belt native with a common touch like Joe Biden. But who’s going to give you all of that in one package plus the “white male” authority that some liberals believe the party’s nominee must have?

That is, to nominate Brown over the heavyweights Democrats would need to diligently vote strategically in primary after primary. Never mind which candidates inspire them. Never mind which ones are the most slashing in their criticism of Trump. Starting in Iowa and onward for months, Dem voters would have to repeat the mantra: “Midwestern white guy, midwestern white guy…” I don’t think that’s how voting, a fundamentally emotional process, works unless there are no standouts in a particular field, and there will be standouts next year. But I may be selling Brown short: I’ve scarcely noticed how he performs on the trail in his last two runs for Senate. Clearly he’s doing something right. All he needs to do now is figure out a way to win a national primary in which he’s neither a frontrunner nor a celebrity.


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