Dems wonder if Sherrod Brown could be their magic man

Democrats say Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Budowsky: 2020 Dems should debate on Fox Overnight Health Care: How 2020 Dems want to overhaul health care | Brooklyn parents sue over measles vaccination mandate | Measles outbreak nears record MORE (D-Ohio) is a potential 2020 candidate who could thread the needle and unite a party divided by people debating whether it’s better to move to the left or the center to win back the White House.

Brown is the kind of politician who can appeal to both sides in that debate, which has defined the 2020 conversation in Democratic circles so far.

ADVERTISEMENT

He’s a progressive who has embraced progressive social views on gay rights and abortion, who just won reelection in Ohio — which increasingly is seen as Trump territory.

Brown might be best known for his liberal economic views, including support for a higher minimum wage and opposition to the Trump tax law. But on trade, he’s long espoused positions similar to President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg on Mueller report: 'Politically, I'm not sure it will change much' Sarah Sanders addresses false statements detailed in Mueller report: 'A slip of the tongue' Trump to visit Japan in May to meet with Abe, new emperor MORE’s, which have been popular with his political base.

He’s got the image of a somewhat rumpled local politician who fits in well with the industrial Midwest, perhaps the key geographic area in the next presidential race.

If a Democratic candidate can take back Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the three states central to Trump’s victory in 2016, they’d win back the White House assuming they carry the other states won by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClinton campaign chief: Mueller report 'lays out a devastating case' against Trump Hillicon Valley: Cyber, tech takeaways from Mueller report | Millions of Instagram passwords exposed internally by Facebook | DHS unrolling facial recognition tech in airports | Uber unveils new safety measures after student's killing Heavily redacted Mueller report leaves major questions unanswered MORE

“Those states will be critical,” said Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis Reed Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal Barr says 'spying' took place on Trump campaign MORE (D-R.I.), who said Brown’s win was a shot in the arm that should be credited to the candidate’s specific brand of politics.

“Sherrod’s victory shows a Democrat, a progressive Democrat did very, very well,” he said. “But it’s a function of more than campaign platform. It’s also the person.” 

When it comes to taking on Trump, a candidate like Brown could be the solution, Democrats say. 

“In many respects he provides the perfect antidote to President Trump,” said Democratic strategist Jim Manley, who got to know Brown when he served in the Senate for then-Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSanders courts GOP voters with 'Medicare for All' plan Glamorization of the filibuster must end Schumer won't rule out killing filibuster MORE (D-Nev.).

“He’s a proud progressive but he doesn’t utilize the harsh rhetoric that some on the left use,” Manley said. “That’s the difference.”

In an interview with The New York Times this week, Brown acknowledged that he is “thinking” about running for president. He told the newspaper that he and his wife, the journalist Connie Schultz, “have been overwhelmed by the number of people that have come forward and said ‘You’ve got to run. You have the right message. You come from the right state.’ ” 

Those who know Brown well say he was never interested in a White House bid.

One source, however, said the senator was “slightly disappointed” he wasn’t selected by Clinton as her running mate in 2016.

“He thought he could have added something to the ticket,” the source said. “I think he was right.” 

Brown could have a future as a vice presidential candidate again, though there would surely be fears in Democratic circles that it would risk losing a seat to Republicans in the closely divided Senate. The incoming governor of Ohio, Mike DeWine, is a Republican.

More recently, particularly after the controversies surrounding the Trump presidency, Brown began to give a White House run more thought, associates say. 

“His focus was always on winning reelection but he was definitely giving it a lot of thought at the same time, and why not?” said one Democrat who discussed the topic with the senator. “I think he saw how Trump won and that’s his constituency. He gets them and they get him.”

At a time when Democrats are struggling to rally around a unifying message for the party, Democrats keep pointing to Brown’s economic vision, one they say worked well in his reelection bid. 

Ben LaBolt, the Democratic strategist and longtime Obama spokesman who worked for Brown, said that message can easily be applied to a 2020 campaign.  

“He has a vision for how to make sure good paying jobs that allow you to support your family will be created not just on the coasts but throughout the country,” LaBolt said.

To that point, Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichLawmakers, tech set for clash over AI Why America needs the ability to track enemy missiles from space Overnight Energy: Bernhardt confirmed as Interior chief | Dems probing if EPA officials broke ethics rules | Senators offer bipartisan carbon capture bill MORE (D-N.M.) said Brown is an attractive candidate because of “his strength in rural communities” and his ability to connect with working-class voters. 

“The dignity of work is really fundamental to the DNA of the Democratic Party and when we consistently communicate that, we have a much broader appeal than when we don’t,” Heinrich said. “That’s Sherrod to a T.” 

If he does choose to run, Brown could be a rival to former Vice President Joe BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenButtigieg says he wouldn't be opposed to having Phish play at his inauguration Poll: Buttigieg surges into contention with Biden, Sanders Buttigieg to fundraise in DC with major Obama, Clinton bundlers next month: report MORE if he also enters the race.

“Sherrod and Joe share a very similar lane,” said David B. Cohen, the assistant director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, adding that it would probably weigh on his decision if Biden entered the race. 

Like Biden, Brown is “not someone who is a bullet-point politician,” Cohen said. “He doesn’t poll before he opens his mouth. He has a plain way of speak, he’s consistent and people respect him for that.” 

Brown would also likely face a number of colleagues if he chooses to run for the White House.

Among the senators thought to be considering bids are fellow Democratic Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenOn The Money: Inside the Mueller report | Cain undeterred in push for Fed seat | Analysis finds modest boost to economy from new NAFTA | White House says deal will give auto sector B boost Sanders announces first endorsements in South Carolina Poll: Buttigieg surges into contention with Biden, Sanders MORE (Mass.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerButtigieg says he wouldn't be opposed to having Phish play at his inauguration Sanders announces first endorsements in South Carolina Buttigieg to fundraise in DC with major Obama, Clinton bundlers next month: report MORE (N.J.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandButtigieg says he wouldn't be opposed to having Phish play at his inauguration 2020 Dems call on Mueller to testify about redacted report 2020 Dems blast Barr's defense of Trump before Mueller report's release MORE (N.Y.) and Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris: Integrity of US justice system 'took a real blow' with Barr's actions Sanders announces first endorsements in South Carolina Poll: Buttigieg surges into contention with Biden, Sanders MORE (Calif.), in addition to Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersButtigieg says he wouldn't be opposed to having Phish play at his inauguration Sanders announces first endorsements in South Carolina Poll: Buttigieg surges into contention with Biden, Sanders MORE (I-Vt.).  

Asked this week if Brown would be a strong presidential candidate, Harris replied, “I love Sherrod. I think he’s fantastic.”

“I think Sherrod will be good at whatever he chooses to do,” Harris said. 

She made sure to highlight that Brown invited her to campaign with him in Ohio. 

“We traveled up and down Ohio together and I’ve seen him in his state and he is well respected. He is a strong voice for labor and organized labor,” she added. “I think his voice is a very important voice in our caucus and in our country.”