Meet the longshot yogi from the Rust Belt running for president

Rep. Tim RyanTimothy (Tim) RyanJD Vance raises more than million in second fundraising quarter for Ohio Senate bid Republicans must join us to give Capitol Police funding certainty  On The Trail: Retirements offer window into House Democratic mood MORE (D-Ohio) has been a House member representing the Mahoning Valley, including Youngtown since 2002 when he succeeded his former boss Jim Traficant. Traficant was one of the most colorful members of the House who — like President TrumpDonald TrumpWendy Sherman takes leading role as Biden's 'hard-nosed' Russia negotiator Senate needs to confirm Deborah Lipstadt as antisemitism envoy — Now Former acting Defense secretary under Trump met with Jan. 6 committee: report MORE — was best known for his toupee his bombast and his legal problems. When Traficant ran afoul of the law and was expelled from Congress, Ryan ran for the seat in 2002 from the state Senate and has served in Congress since then.

Like any good running back, Ryan saw an opening and ran the ball downfield when he filled the hole left by Traficant’s departure. He’s doing the same thing in the Democratic presidential race. Ryan saw a need for a candidate to reverse the fortunes of the industrial Midwest and the blue-collar working families who live there.


Populist Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOn the Money — Student borrowers stare down rising prices Biden selects Sarah Bloom Raskin, two others for Fed board Sinema, Manchin curb Biden's agenda MORE (D-Ohio) was to be the Buckeye in the presidential race but he opted not to run. Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenCarville advises Democrats to 'quit being a whiny party' Wendy Sherman takes leading role as Biden's 'hard-nosed' Russia negotiator Sullivan: 'It's too soon to tell' if Texas synagogue hostage situation part of broader extremist threat MORE sees himself as the tribune for the forgotten middle class but he hit a speed bump even before he officially announced his candidacy. Politics like nature abhors a vacuum and Ryan decided to fill it.

Ryan has been a maverick in the House and mavericks are always in great demand in a volatile political climate. He's been a critic of Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP senator knocks Biden for 'spreading things that are untrue' in voting rights speech Sen. Ron Johnson: Straight from the horse's mouth Clyburn says he's worried about losing House, 'losing this democracy' MORE and unsuccessfully ran against her for Democratic Leader in 2016.

He would be the first House member to go directly from the House of Representatives to the White House since another Buckeye politician, James Garfield did it in 1881.

It’s the economy, stupid

Youngstown is the heart of the Rust Belt and Ryan has been a spokesman in Congress for the families there who have been hit hard by globalization and the decline of manufacturing in the United States.

Ryan believes his path to the presidency is a laser-like focus on the economic problems that plague working families who live in the industrial Midwest. The region has gone from being America’s industrial heartland to the Rust Belt and now travels a path to an uncertain future.

He believes Democrats lost the security of the “blue wall” in the Electoral College when the party forgot voters without a college education and downplayed problems that are the subject of kitchen table financial discussions in middle-class households. Ryan once said, “When we don’t talk about economics, we lose elections.” 

The Democratic Party’s basic kitchen table approach to the big issues worked well in 2018. The president and congressional Republicans hoped that big jobs gains and tax cuts would sustain them. But the economy didn’t help the GOP much because the party ignored the structural problems like health care costs that keep voters up late at night.

There’s evidence that economic issues helped Democrats more than social issues helped the GOP last year. Ryan believes the same will be true in 2020.

The national midterm exit poll showed that voters worried about health care more than anything else. Two in five voters said that it was the most important issue in the campaign and three out of every four of those voters voted Democratic in 2018. Trump tried to inflame social tensions to undermine the Democratic focus but his efforts failed. Only one of every five voters choose immigration as their big concern.  


Ryan’s focus on the economy as the Democratic path to the presidency is on the right track but there are problems with the execution of his plan. His prescription for the ills of his party includes targeting its efforts towards the conversion of the economically challenged white voters without college educations who supported the president in 2016.

To rebuild the blue wall in the industrial Midwest — which is key to denying Trump a second term — Democrats will need to walk and chew gum at the same time. To win the White House, the Democratic presidential nominee will need to do more than win back disenchanted white voters. The Democratic standard bearer must win back truant white voters and increase turnout among non-white voters who failed to vote in 2016. This won’t be easy. But no one ever said that winning a presidential race should be easy.


Ryan may appeal to white male voters but non-white and female voters are the ascending force in the Democratic Party. Meanwhile, the number of white voters without a college education in Democratic presidential primaries is shrinking. This was especially true in the industrial Midwest according to an analysis by CNN. In Ohio, 47 percent of the primary voters came from this group. In 2016, they only made up 36 percent of the electorate. The comparable shares in Wisconsin were 50 percent and 38 percent.

Ryan campaigns as a blue-collar guy but there’s a softer side to him. He is a yoga advocate, and in 2016 he wrote a book called “A Mindful Nation.” His enthusiasm for yoga should help him endure the rigors of a long presidential campaign if he finds the time to unroll his mat. But he is a long shot and winning the Democratic presidential nod will be even more difficult for him than achieving King Pigeon Pose.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Dateline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. 

This is the ninth piece in a series of profiles by Bannon on 2020 Democratic hopefuls. Read his analysis on Mayor Pete ButtigiegSen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourkeformer Govs. Jay Inslee and John Hickenlooper, former Vice President Joe BidenSen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former HUD Secretary Julian CastroSen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)