Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a swing state progressive with strong ties to organized labor and a reputation as a rumpled representative for the working man, has decided not to enter the race to challenge President Donald Trump in 2020.
“Connie and I have spent the last few months traveling around the country to make dignity of work a centerpiece of Democrats’ 2020 campaign, and we are so grateful to everyone who has welcomed us into their communities and into their lives,” Brown said in a statement, referring to his wife, journalist Connie Schultz. “We’ve seen candidates begin taking up the dignity of work fight, and we have seen voters across the country demanding it – because dignity of work is a value that unites all of us. It is how we beat Trump, and it is how we should govern.”
“I will keep calling out Donald Trump and his phony populism,” the third-term senator continued. “I will keep fighting for all workers across the country. And I will do everything I can to elect a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate in 2020. The best place for me to make that fight is in the United States Senate.”
Calls for Brown to run were quickly amplified after he easily won re-election in 2018, dispatching then-GOP Rep. Jim Renacci by a nearly 7-percentage-point margin. Brown was the only Democrat to win statewide in Ohio, a onetime presidential swing state where Trump romped in 2016.
I will keep fighting for all workers across the country. And I will do everything I can to elect a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate in 2020. The best place for me to make that fight is in the United States Senate.
Sen. Sherrod Brown
In his election night victory speech, Brown hinted at a presidential run.
“As progressives, we know you build the economy from the middle out, by putting people first, by rewarding their work, not by cutting taxes for the rich,” Brown said at the time. “That is the message coming out of Ohio in 2018, and that is the blueprint for our nation in 2020.”
Brown is a career politician. He served in the Ohio state legislature from 1974 to 1982 and then won two terms as secretary of state before winning election to Congress from the Cleveland suburbs in 1992. He won his first Senate election in 2006 and then a hotly contested re-election bid in 2012.
During that time, he built a reputation as a staunch liberal. He voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, which outlawed gay marriage nationwide, in the 1990s. In the early 2000s, he opposed the United States’ invasion of Iraq. He is considered perhaps Congress’ fiercest critic of free trade agreements and wrote a book titled The Myths of Free Trade.
Brown, a longtime supporter of Medicare for all, did decide not to sign on to legislation sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) last year. Instead, he chose to focus on his own legislation aiming to lower the eligibility age for Medicare to 55.
The senator stands out as the highest-profile candidate from the industrial Midwest in the expected 2020 Democratic field. While President Barack Obama twice won the states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Iowa in his elections, Trump swept the region in 2016. For Democrats focused on appealing to the white working-class voters key to winning the Upper Midwest, Brown had a track record of success.
During his journeys around the country exploring a bid – Brown had traveled to Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada – he had pitched himself as a compromise candidate: Liberal enough to win over progressives, but with a track record of winning in a red-tinted state to assuage moderates’ fears that a liberal candidate couldn’t defeat the president.
Brown’s decision not to run may clear space in multiple lanes of the 2020 Democratic primary: Progressives, including Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, will face one fewer candidate pitching themselves as the solution to the county’s rampant income inequality. But candidates who are arguing they are best positioned to defeat Trump – including Vice President Joe Biden, who is still weighing a run – may find themselves with less competition to win over moderate voters.
His decision not to run will come as a relief to other Senate Democrats – and not just because many of his colleagues are running for president. Had Brown won the presidency, GOP Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine would’ve selected a Republican to replace him in Congress’ upper chamber. (This also makes it less likely the eventual Democratic candidate will select Brown as their vice presidential nominee.)
Brown’s decision makes him the third Democrat to rule out a presidential bid in recent days, following former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley.