BRUNSWICK, Ohio—The moment had all the hallmarks of a presidential announcement: a friendly hometown crowd (despite below-freezing temperatures), an adoring spouse on hand to provide an introduction, a factory floor in the American heartland secured for backdrop, and a number of national journalists flown in to cover.
It all had the makings of a presidential announcement, except Sherrod Brown wasn't announcing a White House run—yet. Instead, the rumpled populist Democrat was setting off on the first leg of his "Dignity of Work" tour, which will take him to the early primary and caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.
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After being introduced by his wife, Connie Schultz, Brown paid gratitude to the people who helped him secure a third term representing Ohio in the Senate this past November.
"Thank you all for showing the country that an outspoken progressive can win and win decisively in the heartland," Brown, clad in sneakers, baggy khakis, and quarter-zip sweater, told the crowd of about 200 gathered on Wednesday. "Too often … Democratic activists and pundits act like our party has to choose between advocating for the strong progressive values that excite our base, which we do, or talking to working-class voters about their lives."
"Together we've won re-election time and time again in a state that Trump carried by almost double digits," the senator said. "We fight for our progressive values, we fight for the dignity of work. It's who we are, it's how we govern, it's how we won, it's how we'll win again in 2020."
"I voted against NAFTA, I voted against the misnamed Defense of Marriage Act," said Brown, touting his bona fides. "I voted against the Iraq War, I stood up to Wall Street, and I stood up to the gun lobby. That will continue."
"Together, we fight for workers rights, we fight for voting rights, we fight for civil rights, we fight for women's rights, we fight for L-G-B-T-Q rights," Brown said, stressing each syllable. "That's who we are, that's how we will win."
Much like the labor leaders of past and present, Brown believes that a day of hard work no longer provides Americans with financial security, let alone meaning.
"All across the country hard work just doesn't pay off as it should," he said. "Corporate profits have soared, executive compensation has exploded, workers are producing and are more productive than ever before, [but] wages are flat."
"We know its even worse for women, it's even worse for people of color. They face the same challenges on top of the sexism and racism that make it even harder to get ahead, no matter how hard they work, no matter how many jobs they hold."
Denouncing the rising costs of health care and education, Brown blamed President Donald Trump for the economic decline that made too many people feel "invisible."
"Donald Trump simply doesn't respect the dignity of work," he said to snickers and boos from the crowd. "He has simply betrayed workers…. Donald Trump has used his phony populism to divide and dehumanize Americans. He uses phony populism to distract from the fact that he has used the White House to enrich billionaires like himself."
"We don't appeal to some by pushing others down, we as progressives and as populists, we lift all workers up," Brown said. "I've said it before and I'll say it again tonight: This is our America, this is our America," he said. "We will never give up our hallowed ground of patriotism to the extremists, the extremists at the state house and the extremists in the White House."
"If you love this country [then] you fight for the people who make it work. Tomorrow we take that fight on the road," Brown said before stepping off the stage as Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" began to play from the loudspeakers. Not that he's running for president—yet.