Sherrod Brown tests a liberal Democrat’s ability to still connect with working-class voters in Ohio

Senator Sherrod Brown enters Ohio’s 2024 election cycle with a unique distinction: he’s the last liberal in Trump country.

As a result, Mr. Brown faces one of the toughest re-election races of his 28 years in politics with a liberal election result being tested by Ohio’s increasingly conservative voters.

Still, Mr. Brown remains optimistic about the race, saying he would “pit his fight against anyone” for Ohio workers.

“These people know me,” Mr. Brown recently told The Washington Times on Capitol Hill. “I won in 2018 when Trump fought me. I speak to workers. I’ll get Trump voters, I’ll get people who voted against Trump.”

Mr. Brown repelled a Trump-inspired challenger in 2018, scoring a 7-point victory in an election wave for the Democrats.

The big difference in this election cycle is that Mr. Brown will most likely run alongside President Biden, who is unpopular in the state, and could very well run against Mr. Trump, the current front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination.

Even Democrats admit Mr. Brown’s path to victory narrows with Mr. Trump leading the GOP ticket.

Mr. Trumps is credited with transforming the Ohio GOP. He aligned himself with working-class voters who had been pulling the lever for the Democrats for years. He did this by railing against trade deals and capitalizing on the frustration of voters who felt politically alienated.

That included 2012 when President Obama, helped in part by the auto industry bailout that saved jobs in the state, defeated Mitt Romney by about 2 points in Ohio.

Mr Trump scored an 8-point victory over Hillary Clinton four years later and repeated the feat against President Biden in the 2020 election.

Mr Trump was not on the ballot in the 2022 midterm election, but he played a significant role in fueling Senator JD Vance’s 8-point win over former Rep. Tim Ryan.

To divert attention from the liberal parts of his balance sheet, Mr. Ryan sprinted to the center and emphasized the times he broke with his Democratic Party leaders.

Mr. Brown must make a similar choice in his re-election campaign: move to the center and away from his political DNA — or stay where he is and run on the Liberal tally that helped him in the 2006, 2012 and 2018 elections.

“Brown has a built-in advantage over Ryan. He’s the incumbent and has won several challenging races in the past,” said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, author of The Bellwether, a book on the history of Ohio’s presidential election. “Yet we’ve also seen that the results of the President and Senate are increasingly correlated.”

“Ohio definitely moved more to the right in the last presidential election, so Brown will almost certainly need at least a few points of crossover support to win,” he said. “Brown also ran in fairly favorable electoral environments — 2006 and 2018 were Democratic break-up years, and Barack Obama carried Ohio in 2012. So 2024 represents a significant test for Brown.”

Republicans have plenty of ammunition to brand Mr. Brown a partisan hack gone mad over “bright” ideas. According to a tally by political statistics website FiveThirtyEight, he voted with Mr Biden over 98% of the time.

Mr. Brown has vaccinated against some of the GOP’s attacks by opposing nearly every trade deal he faced, most notably the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which has been accused of eroding working-class communities across the country.

However, Mr. Brown supported the trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada that circumscribed NAFTA and proved to be one of the outstanding achievements of Mr. Trump’s presidency.

Mr. Brown recently fraternized with Mr. Vance over legislation to improve railroad safety following the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

In a recent testimony before a Senate panel, Mr. Brown lashed out at Norfork Southern, comparing eastern Palestine to communities that have suffered from offshore labor and are “so often forgotten or exploited by American corporations.”

“The company followed the Wall Street business model: increase profits by cutting costs at any cost,” said Mr. Brown. “The consequences for places like East Palestine be damned.”

Ohio GOP chairman Alex Triantafilou said Mr Brown has never faced the kind of political headwinds he will face in 2024.

“Ohio was a swing state, but not when Donald Trump is up for election,” said Mr. Triantafilou. “They’re just watching if President Trump is the nominee, Senator Brown is going to try to do what Tim Ryan did in 2022, which was wooing Trump voters, and he doesn’t have the records or background to run Trump.” -To woo voters.”

Mr. Brown’s votes against the Keystone XL pipeline, his support for getting rid of the legislative filibuster and his dovishness about whether he supports the Supreme Court occupation reveal a liberal streak that won’t go down well with voters, he said.

Strongsville, Ohio GOP leader Shannon Burns said he expects Mr. Brown to conclude his race is unlikely to be won and abandon his re-election campaign to save himself from an embarrassing defeat.

“He was seen as a great government liberal who was a fighter for workers. That’s how he was seen,” Mr Burns said. “His actual reality has gotten through to Ohio voters, and that means he’s a bright leftist and not an old-school Democrat.”

Mr. Brown’s allies disagree.

Cuyahoga County Democratic Party leader David Brock said Mr Brown has been “the pre-eminent defender of labor across the country” for decades.

“By that I mean not only a champion of workers, which he is, but also a champion of those who want to work, who want a better life and a good job,” said Mr. Brock. “You see him and you realize he’s had the same message for 30 years. It is who he is. It’s not a sham.”

Mr Brock said it would be extremely difficult to cast the senator as fake.

Mr. Brown has so far drawn a single GOP challenger in the state of Senator Matt Dolan. Mr. Dolan, who owns a fractional interest in the Cleveland Guardians baseball team, lost his Senate bid last year after refusing to go all-in as a Trump supporter in the Republican primary.

Others believed to be considering attempts include Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Bernie Moreno, a luxury car dealer and businessman, and Pete Kirsanow, an attorney and member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

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