Sen. Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat weighing a run for president, announced Tuesday he will launch a listening tour of early primary states starting later on this month based on his “dignity of work” message that he used to win his third straight statewide election in a political battleground state.
“I want to hear from people around (the country) and I want this conversation and this dignity of work tour to encourage my colleagues running for president that this should be the narrative,” Brown said in an interview with MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes.”
The tour will begin at the end of January in Brown’s home state, before moving on in February to stops in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. Brown said he still hadn’t made up his mind on whether to launch an exploratory committee – a step several Democrats have taken in recent weeks.
Brown said he and his wife, journalist Connie Schultz, had not yet made up their minds on a presidential run. “We will make that decision in the weeks ahead,” he said.
Brown, 66, is unabashedly progressive but with a Midwestern, populist bent that could appeal to Democratic voters who found Trump’s message – which is fairly aligned with Brown’s own beliefs on issues like trade – not just appealing, but animating. Brown outran 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by 15 points and bested Richard Cordray, the Democratic nominee for governor who lost his race, by nearly 300,000 votes.
He will carry a message into the early primary states on his tour that has resonated in three consecutive statewide election wins in a crucial battleground state – a message that helped him ride to victory in 2018, a year nearly all of Ohio’s other statewide elections went squarely into Republican hands.
The state, which then-candidate Donald Trump won by eight points in 2016, has trended so firmly red in recent years that some Democratic operatives have questioned whether it remains firmly in the top tier of presidential battlegrounds for Democrats. States like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin also fell out of Democratic column – creating the road map to Trump’s stunning electoral victory.
Brown’s re-election immediately drew attention from Democrats eying that path and the Democratic collapse in the Midwest – and he has said he has been fielding calls from supporters and allies urging him to run ever since.
“Because Ohio is in so many ways the number one swing state in the country, a message that works there, the dignity of work, works everywhere,” Brown said.
Still, in a field that is seemingly growing by the day with a diverse group of candidates – many of whom are Brown’s colleagues in the Senate – with national fundraising networks and operations – along with a Democratic Party still divided on what message, let alone candidate, can defeat Trump in 2020 – Brown will have work to do in the months ahead to carve out his place in the field should he decide to run.
“National Democrats and some pundits say that Democrats, they kind of make this a choice: either Democrats talk to progressives, to the progressive base, or they talk to workers, working class families regardless of race. To me you’ve gotta do both, that’s how we won Ohio,” Brown said.
Brown’s message – coined during his Senate re-election campaign as “Dignity of Work” (and matched with a new website of the same name launched Tuesday night shortly before his MSNBC appearance) – is one defined by strong ties to labor, economic mobility in the form of higher wages and opposition to trade policies that he views as having hollowed out the manufacturing base in the industrial Midwest.
“We celebrate the worker,” Brown said in his victory remarks the night he was re-elected in 2018. “And that is the blueprint for America in 2020.”
He supports a $15 minimum wage and has pitched incentivizing companies to keep their operations in the US and provide higher wages and benefit plans to their workers. As the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, he’s been a consistently sharp critic of the size and interconnectedness of Wall Street banks and a financial system he says is skewed away from workers.
It’s a message that faces an initial test in Iowa and may serve as a marker for whether a future campaign would have legs.
While Iowa is not analogous to Ohio in terms of industry, it represented another largely white, working class state that moved firmly away from Democrats in 2016, where Clinton lost by nearly 10 points after consecutive comfortable victories by President Barack Obama.