The only Ohio Democrat to hold or win office in the 2018 midterm elections appears to have his sights set on the White House.
Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown announced that he will tour four early, and key, presidential primary states. His team refers to the trip as the “Dignity of Work” tour and will travel to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.
Concurrent with this announcement was the launch of his new website, “DignityOfWork.com.” The website is funded by America Works PAC, the senator’s personal political action committee. As of now the site only lists some of his key issues, an email registration link, and a donation page.
The crux of this early campaign appears to be an appeal to the blue-collar working class that largely abandoned the Democratic party in the 2016 election in favor of President Donald Trump. He emphasizes that “dignity of work means hard work should pay off for everyone, no matter who you are or what kind of work you do.”
The campaign revolves around the point that it’s not enough to have a job, but rather a well-paying job. This is a clever messaging manipulation that both emphasizes the bipartisan call for a strong and prosperous economy, as well as alluding to more progressive causes, like universal healthcare, a minimum wage increase, and some form of guaranteed employment. While he does not explicitly state that he will advocate for these issues, he emphasizes that he:
has dedicated his life in public service to fighting to raise wages and benefits, lower healthcare costs, and ensure everyone can retire with dignity and security.
His critics maintain that he’s attempting to outright impose socialism by hiding it under the trappings of blue-collar populism. In a recent statement RNC Ohio spokesperson Mandi Merrit stated:
Sherrod Brown is traveling to 2020 states for one reason – to promote his own self-serving ambitions. While Brown likes to promote his fake-populist agenda, the facts tell a different story. Time and time again, Brown has sided with the far-left fringes of his party over a pro-workers’ agenda – he voted against tax cuts, he votes against cutting regulations, and he votes against President Trump’s agenda that has helped workers in Ohio get back to work and provide for their families.
Brown’s 10-point reelection victory in Ohio has won him celebrity status in many progressive circles. However, this vaulted status has yet to translate onto the national stage. A recent national poll found that, when asked how favorably they view the senator, 77 percent of those polled stated that they did not know enough about him to have an opinion while 12 percent approved and seven percent disapproved of him.
A lack of name recognition would be a challenge in most historical primaries but by no means a “campaign killer.” The issue is that 2020 will not be a standard election. By several estimates, there could be as many as 30-40 Democratic primary candidates to say nothing of the myriad of independent candidates who will also throw their hats into the ring.
Knowing this, his decision to tour the states before making a formal announcement suggests that he is hedging his bets. Should his tour go well, he will be able to stand out from the Democratic pack long enough to make his case on a national stage. Should his message fall flat, he’ll, presumably, quietly return to Ohio and “live to fight another day.” However, it might already be too late for the senator.
His blue-collar, populist, economic message would have been a resounding success in 2016 when the economy was still limping along. December 2018 saw the creation of more than 300,000 jobs, wage increases, and a greater employment participation rate than the country has seen in years.
If the economy retracts, he’ll have a strong bipartisan message. If it doesn’t, he’ll have to lean further to the left, which could lose him much of the moderate base that has supported him thus far.
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Andrew Shirley is a reporter at Battleground State News and The Ohio Star. Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.