VP buzz for Sherrod Brown
© Greg Nash

Vice President Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownOvernight Finance: Trump moves to begin NAFTA talks | Dems press Treasury chief on taxes, Dodd-Frank | Biz leaders want tax changes to be permanent Mnuchin mum as Dems press for answers on tax reform, Dodd-Frank Sherrod Brown looks to defy Trump trend in Ohio MORE

That’s the scenario gaining steam among liberal Democrats as their presidential front-runner, Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump approval falls 4 points in new survey Voting advocates notch win at Supreme Court House Democrats expand 2018 targets MORE, struggles to win white working-class voters in the race against Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenate votes to confirm US ambassador to China Overnight Finance: What to expect from Trump budget | Plan calls for 0M in Medicaid cuts | Senate confirms ambassador to China | Roadblocks ahead for infrastructure plan Want to identify as pro-iife? Then support authentically pro-life policies MORE (I-Vt.).

Though Democrats expect Clinton to ultimately triumph in the race, they are unnerved by Sanders’s upset victory last week in Michigan — a feat he hopes to repeat on Tuesday in the Rust Belt primaries of Ohio, Illinois and Missouri.

With Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump trip gives GOP a breather Trump may tap Lewandowski, Bossie as crisis managers: report Congress should pass the RAC Act to protect Dreamers MORE increasingly likely to win the Republican nomination, some Democrats say Clinton needs to consider picking a running mate who can counter his populist appeal.   

Enter Sen. Brown, a union champion in the mold of Sanders who represents the crucial swing state of Ohio.

Brown, who spent the weekend campaigning around Ohio with Clinton and her husband, former President Bill ClintonBill ClintonMonica Lewinsky: Fox News's 'dream was my nightmare' Feehery: Trump’s first budget test Five things to watch for in the Trump budget MORE, insists he doesn’t want the promotion. But his disavowals have done little to silence the growing buzz around his name. 

NBC’s Chuck Todd and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow each floated a Clinton-Brown ticket last week.

“I put Sherrod Brown now front of the list, front of the line, as a potential running mate for her, because she’s going to need somebody who appeals to the Sanders-Warren wing,” Todd said last week, referring to the liberal icon Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWhy Congress needs to reform structured settlements Biden fuels 2020 speculation Dem lawmaker: Trump's federal crime 'staring all of us in the face' MORE (D-Mass.).

Maddow said having Brown on the ticket would come with an added bonus: His wife, Connie Schultz, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who is “as effective a campaigner as anyone else in the Democratic Party, and she’s never been an elected official.”

Schultz responded the next day on her Facebook page that, while she thought Todd’s imitation of her husband’s raspy voice was funny, “his insisting that Sherrod is at the top of Clinton’s VP list wasn’t as amusing.”

Brown himself has been similarly direct.

“I do not want to be vice president,” Brown told The Hill in an email. 

“I love working for the people of Ohio, and I have a lot more work to do as their senator.”

Yet the VP chatter around Brown is only growing louder.

Progressives view him as in line with Warren on most issues and believe he could help propel Clinton to critical Rust Belt wins in the general election. 

Such talk runs counter to the long-held belief that Clinton, the 68-year-old former secretary of State, would be inclined to pick a younger, fresher face — potentially someone Hispanic — as a running mate.

But Trump’s rise has raised real questions about that strategy. The billionaire businessman is attracting white, working-class voters — particularly men — not only within the Republican Party but also among independents and moderate Democrats.

Indeed, roughly 20,000 registered Democrats in Massachusetts switched their party affiliation ahead of the state’s March 2 primary — an unusual shift that state officials attributed to Trump’s appeal among blue-collar voters.

Democrats also see less need for a minority on the ticket if Trump is the Republican nominee, believing the businessman’s sharp tone on immigration and his initial failure to disavow a former Ku Klux Klan leader will alienate black and Hispanic voters.

But Clinton’s support among white voters appears shakier.

She had held a commanding lead over Sanders in Michigan polls but suffered a narrow loss. The Vermont senator’s focus on economic justice appeared to resonate with rural, working-class whites in Michigan, a state that has struggled to hold on to manufacturing jobs.

Indeed, Clinton won just 42 percent of the white vote in the state, versus Sanders’s 56 percent, according to CNN’s exit polls. That divide was even wider among white men, who voted 62-37 percent in favor of Sanders. Among independent voters, Sanders took a whopping 71 percent.

Rev. Al Sharpton, a Democratic civil rights leader who has not endorsed either candidate, said Clinton needs to step up her game when it comes to her blue-collar economic message and attacking Wall Street greed.

“The problem we have is that, if Sen. Sanders is the nominee, you have one that can resonate … with white working-class voters, but not black voters. You can’t win without black and Latino voters,” Sharpton said Thursday during a breakfast in Washington sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. 

“Mrs. Clinton has won black voters all over [the country] … but she has to deal with a message that will resonate with working class. So the balance is what has to happen, and so far neither candidate has shown enough of that balance.”

Even if Brown balks at a Clinton nod, his support in Ohio remains crucial in the race for the White House. 

Brown is considered a good campaigner who knows the nooks and crannies of Ohio and who easily connects with voters. 

He is a senator who has held weekly lunches with Senate cafeteria workers to discuss their union contracts, and he is the same man who brought his wife a huge batch of wildflowers from their garden ahead of the first snow. 

On Saturday, Brown, who endorsed Clinton in October, praised her for having the “the best, thought-through trade and manufacturing policy” of all the 2016 candidates.

Clinton, who has in the past supported trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), last year announced her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an expansive trade deal between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries. Clinton had expressed support for the pact during her time at State, fueling liberal skepticism about her commitment on trade issues.

Brown generates no such doubts. He has been a strong critic of trade deals dating back to 1992, when he was first elected to the House and immediately began a campaign to stop NAFTA from gaining congressional approval. The deal was ratified two years later under President Clinton. 

He is considered a champion of the steel and auto manufacturing industries in his state and has clearly influenced Clinton’s revamped message on trade. That was reflected over the weekend when Clinton said that TPP must include higher standards for auto imports. 

Clinton, for her part, has dropped no hints about potential vice presidential picks, saying she’s focused instead on securing the nomination in the race against Sanders.