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 ClintonHouse Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally House Intel Republican: 'Foolish' not to take info on opponent from foreign ally It's about the delegates, stupid MORE and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownCongress can defend against Russia by outlawing anonymous shell companies Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties 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. 

ADVERTISEMENT

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 KaineTexas raises age to purchase tobacco to 21 Texas raises age to purchase tobacco to 21 Democrats push to make national security a 2020 wedge issue MORE (Va.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Trump puts GOP in tough spot with remarks on foreign 'dirt' MORE (Va.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenJulián Castro defends going on Fox: I'm focused on 'the people out there watching' Julián Castro defends going on Fox: I'm focused on 'the people out there watching' O'Rourke unveils plan to support women, minority-owned businesses 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 ObamaBarack Hussein Obama2020 Democrats mark 7th anniversary of DACA Aren't delirious Democrats now accusing Team Obama of treason? Trump won't say if he'd endorse Pence in 2024 MORE, 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 ReidTrump weighs in on UFOs in Stephanopoulos interview Trump weighs in on UFOs in Stephanopoulos interview Impeachment will reelect Trump 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 VitterSenate confirms Trump judge who faced scrutiny over abortion views Collins votes against Trump judicial pick Progressive group targets Susan Collins over Trump judicial pick 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 Obama’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 John TrumpTrump defends Stephanopolous interview Trump defends Stephanopolous interview Buttigieg on offers of foreign intel: 'Just call the FBI' 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 SandersButtigieg on Biden's Iraq War vote: 'that vote was a mistake' Buttigieg on Biden's Iraq War vote: 'that vote was a mistake' The generational divide of Joe Biden and the Democratic Party 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.”