How Hillary Clinton and Sherrod Brown came to know one another

How Hillary Clinton and Sherrod Brown came to know one another
© Greg Nash

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney charged in Durham investigation pleads not guilty MORE and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownCentrist state lawmaker enters Ohio GOP Senate primary The Trojan Horse of protectionism Advocates call on top Democrats for 0B in housing investments MORE, the Ohio senator on her shortlist for vice president, were once neighbors.

Not at home, but on the fourth floor of the Senate Russell Building. 


When Brown, then newly elected, moved into the office in 2007, the New York senator threw him and his staff a “welcome to the floor” party, where food and beverages were served in a committee room down the hall. 

Because of the close proximity — the two offices’ press shops were right across the hall from each other — their staffs became friendly. 

Brown’s chief of staff at the time, Jay Heimbach, was known to drop by and visit with his buddy Kris Balderston, Clinton’s deputy chief of staff. And Clinton’s Senate administrative director, Liz Kelley, is married to Brown staffer Mike Kanick. 

A couple of months later, when Cleveland radio station WMJI broadcast out of Brown’s office one day as part of an annual tradition, Brown invited Clinton, running for president at the time, to participate. After the interview concluded, she went desk to desk, greeting every staffer — something that people working for Brown said meant a lot to them at the time. 

While Clinton and Brown weren’t especially close during their time in the Senate — they only overlapped for two years, before Clinton left to serve as secretary of State — the Ohio senator is one of just a few people on her 2016 shortlist for vice president with whom she once had a working relationship. 

Three other senators on the list — Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Emissions heading toward pre-pandemic levels The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - What do Manchin and Sinema want? MORE (Va.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDemocrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' Advocates call on top Democrats for 0B in housing investments Democrats draw red lines in spending fight MORE (Va.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' The Trojan Horse of protectionism Federal Reserve officials' stock trading sparks ethics review MORE (Mass.) — all joined the Senate after Clinton was gone. 

Former aides say Clinton and Brown shared many similarities. 

“They’re both Midwestern and real friendly people who love people,” one former Clinton staffer said. 

Brown stayed on the sidelines in the party’s combative 2008 primary, refusing to pick sides between his work neighbor and Barack Obama, then an Illinois senator.

“He was thinking through a lot of it,” one former Brown staffer recalled. “He liked them both.” 

“I just think, ‘Let the voters decide,’ ” the senator told reporters then.

But Brown, a favorite among progressives who is known for his gravelly voice and penchant for wearing suits with Puma sneakers, quickly endorsed Clinton’s second White House run. 

“I think he was looking at all the gains we’ve made over the last eight years,” the former staffer said. “And all those gains are put to risk if we don’t win this election. ... And that’s why he went out early.” 

Those who know Brown well say they could see him staying in the Senate, where he could be chairman of the Senate Banking Committee if Democrats retake the upper chamber. 

“It’s a pet issue for him,” said Jim Manley, who served as a spokesman to Sen. Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDemocrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda Justice Breyer issues warning on remaking Supreme Court: 'What goes around comes around' MORE (D-Nev.) when he was majority leader. “He has worked very hard over the last couple of years to reach across the aisle on such issues like ‘too big to fail,’ and he’s gone out of his way to work with Republicans including [Sen.] David VitterDavid Bruce VitterBiden inaugural committee to refund former senator's donation due to foreign agent status Bottom line Lysol, Charmin keep new consumer brand group lobbyist busy during pandemic MORE, so I would think that he’d want to continue reaching out and working on those issues.”

Pressed this week about whether he was interested in being Clinton’s vice presidential pick, Brown offered a Shermanesque answer. 

He called the speculation “flattering” but said in an CNN interview with Jake Tapper on Sunday: “I’ve made it clear I don’t really want this job.” 

“I don’t want to be president,” Brown said. “I love the job I’m doing.”

Many people, including MSNBC anchors Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, have suggested that Brown could be a good VP pick for Clinton. 

She needs to win Ohio and has struggled to win over white men. 

She and Brown have differed in the past on trade policy, an issue where Clinton is now shifting toward the Ohio senator. 

Clinton’s husband signed the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico into law in 1993, and she backed President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBill Maher, Isiah Thomas score over the NFL's playing of 'Black national anthem' Democrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' White House debates vaccines for air travel MORE’s Trans-Pacific Partnership deal as a member of his Cabinet. She now opposes the TPP. 

Brown, a fierce critic of free trade deals, defended Clinton in the CNN interview, saying she will “work on these trade enforcement issues and will oppose trade agreements” and that she has an “understanding how to do that, in a way that [presumptive GOP presidential nominee] Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 On The Money — Dems dare GOP to vote for shutdown, default MORE has never really offered.”

One reason Clinton might be dissuaded from selecting Brown, however, is that Ohio Gov. John Kasich would get to select his replacement. That could endanger a possible Democratic Senate majority.

Nevertheless, a number of Clinton allies are touting Brown as a solid pick. 

“He seems like a logical choice,” one former Clinton aide said. “He has sterling progressive credentials, he’s from Ohio, a key swing state, and he would be a pretty welcome choice for Bernie SandersBernie SandersPelosi says House members would not vote on spending bill topline higher than Senate's Groups push lawmakers to use defense bill to end support for Saudis in Yemen civil war Congress must address the looming debt crisis MORE supporters.”

Former aides and those familiar with Brown’s thinking maintain that Clinton would have to sell the senator and his wife, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Connie Schultz, on being her running mate. 

“She’s sacrificed a lot up to this point,” one Brown ally said. 

But the former Brown aide said despite his protestations, it’s possible the senator would say yes. 

“He’s like anybody else,” the former aide said. “If asked, he would feel a sense of duty. It’s quite an honor to be asked.”