Sherrod Brown: 2020 Democrats Not 'Thinking of the General Election'

March 13, 2019

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) criticized his party's 2020 presidential candidates for not "thinking about the general election" when they embrace positions and rhetoric antithetic to winning back working-class voters.

Brown, who until recently was weighing a presidential campaign, appeared on MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes on Monday to discuss the 2020 race and "the calculation" candidates consider when deciding to run.

Hayes questioned if Brown's own decision to pass on a presidential run was because of "pushback from Chuck Schumer" over the difficulty Democrats would face in keeping his Senate seat, should he win. Ohio has "trended increasingly conservative and red," Hayes noted.

"No, I heard that literally from nobody. I was questioned about it by media, but nobody said—including people in Ohio and the Senate Democratic leadership—nobody said to me, 'you can't do this,'" Brown said. "I think partly because we would be glad at this time to trade a Senate seat for the presidency."

There was "a recognition that if I were the nominee, I would have perhaps the best chance to beat Trump," Brown added.

Brown chalked up that advantage to his "Dignity of Work" theme, which emphasizes the concerns of working-class and blue-collar voters as much as those of the Democratic Party's liberal base.

The senator added, however, that other Democrats could do just as well against Trump if they adopted that message.

"I want our candidates to start thinking about the general election and how you're going to win the general election," Brown said. "If they start talking to workers, of course, we play to our progressive base—I take a back seat to nobody on my votes against the Iraq War, for marriage equality, against NAFTA, and against the bankruptcy bill, and a whole bunch of issues as a progressive—but we have to talk to workers."

"If we do that, I predict if that we right, that whoever raises his or her hand on January 20th, [2021]... they will talk about the Dignity of Work in his or her inaugural speech," he continued.

Hayes requested Brown "sharpen" his remarks, especially as it seemed he was criticizing Democratic candidates for too narrowly focusing on liberal causes that can't "appeal broadly" to voters in places like Ohio.

"What is the thing that you're worried the field has been doing or is going to do that you're trying to provide an antidote to, that you think is bad," Hayes asked.

"I don't say it's bad yet. It might become that. I don't think that our candidates are thinking of the general election," Brown said. "I think that there is a bit of 'one bird flies off the telephone wire, five more birds fly off the telephone wire' ... I just want candidates to think for themselves and to move the country forward, and think about the general election."

Prior to opting out of a run for the Democratic presidential nomination, Brown drew criticism from liberals for his refusal to endorse "Medicare for all" and the Green New Deal. Both proposals have elicited widespread backing from 2020 Democrats, despite concerns over feasibility, cost, and implementation.

Brown's decision to pass on a White House run came one day after Priorities USA, the largest super PAC operating in support of the Democratic Party, announced Ohio would not be a top target in 2020.