The last time Ohio had a major party nominee for president was 98 years ago and that year the state had two, when Republican presidential nominee Warren Harding of Marion defeated Democratic presidential nominee James M. Cox of Dayton in the 1920 election.
Now, after decades of Ohio politicians playing minor roles in presidential politics, two Ohio candidates may run for president. The odds are extremely long that Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown and Republican Gov. John Kasich will represent their parties in the 2020 election, but both are considering running.
Their interest is perhaps unsurprising. For much of his second term, Kasich has been a regular on national weekend talk shows, fueling speculation that he would challenge President Donald Trump in the 2020 Republican primary or run a third-party candidacy.
Brown was interviewed in 2016 by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for vice president. While she eventually opted for Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., Brown has since been regarded as a candidate for the national ticket in 2020.
With Kasich winning two terms as governor and Brown having won five statewide elections since 1982, both have demonstrated they can carry Ohio, a state crucial for any presidential candidate trying to amass 270 electoral votes.
“Sherrod Brown would be a pretty decent nominee if he were able to get nominated,” said Kyle Kondik of the University of the Virginia Center for Politics.
Matt Borges, former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said “a lot of what” Kasich is “doing is based on the premise that the country is going to look in a different direction for a different style of leadership in 2020, someone who isn’t divisive.”
The likelihood that either would be nominated remains slim. Brown, a 66-year-old white man, would have to run in the primaries against as many as 12 candidates in a Democratic field that has tended to prefer to break the mold. In the past two election cycles the party nominated first an African-American and then a woman.
Black and women candidates dot most Democratic presidential lists, though the front runners also include white men such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Kasich, who finished second to Trump in the 2016 New Hampshire Primary, would have an even tougher path.
He could either run as a third-party candidate or challenge Trump in the GOP primaries, prompting former Republican gubernatorial candidate J. Kenneth Blackwell to quip, “John would be lucky to place third in a two-man race against Trump.”
Brown: ‘My dream was to play center field for the Cleveland Indians’
For the bulk of his career, Brown has focused squarely on Ohio: First as a state representative, then Ohio secretary of state, then a longtime U.S. House member and finally, starting in 2007, as a U.S. senator.
“I didn’t have this dream of being president of the United States all my life,” Brown said on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos. “My dream was to play center field for the Cleveland Indians. That door obviously has closed.”
But in the aftermath of Brown’s defeat of Republican Jim Renacci earlier this month, he said calls and emails have poured in urging him to run for president. Brown and his wife Connie, he said, were “overwhelmed by the enthusiasm.”
Mark Caleb Smith, the director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University, said Brown has proven he can win as a Democrat in a Midwestern state that is trending Republican. He attracts both blue-collar and middle-class voters, which any successful Democrat will need to win a general election, Smith said.
Some Democrats, however, are skeptical of Brown’s chances. Although he won re-election in a year when no other Democrat won a nonjudicial statewide race, he lost ground in some traditional Democratic strongholds, such as the Youngstown area. And this came despite out-raising his opponent by nearly $20 million.
One Democrat strategist said Renacci’s “entire campaign consisted of rehashing Sherrod’s divorce (from 1986) and he still came within six points. I don’t know that he’s going to bring you Ohio” in a presidential campaign.
“I’m a fan of Sherrod in the Senate,” that strategist said. “But I am not convinced he’s presidential timbre.”
Others fear that Trump will show no hesitation in reviving Brown’s ugly divorce. But Mary Anne Marsh, a Boston-based Democratic strategist, said the Democratic field will be so crowded she doubts that “Trump is going to put every single Democrat in his sights systematically and go through each and every one of them.”
Still, Brown must be on Trump’s radar: In comments to the Wall Street Journal last week, Trump blamed Brown for GM’s decision to slash jobs in Lordstown, Ohio, spurring Brown to fire back on Twitter.
Kasich: Test-driving a message as the anti-Trump
While Brown created a stir in November when he spoke of running for president, nobody was surprised when Kasich said last week on “ABC’s This Week” that he is talking to friends and associates about running in 2020.
Since Trump took office in 2017, Kasich has been a regular on the Sunday national talk shows, test-driving his message that the country will tire of Trump’s divisive rhetoric.
By any standard, he has presided over a healthy time in Ohio. Non-farm payrolls have increased by more than 600,000, income taxes were cut, and a budget shortfall of $8 billion in 2010 has been replaced by a surplus.
“What voters, regardless of political party, want is someone who is authentic, principled and willing to put their country over their political party; someone who will put forward real solutions to our nation’s challenges not just political soundbites,” said Chris Schrimpf, a Kasich spokesman. “They want an end to the chaos and fighting, and for our country to work together.”
The drawback is Kasich’s rhetoric on national TV often collides with his actual record. Privately, even Republicans describe Kasich as divisive and prickly, quick to take offense at those who disagree with him.
Just after his election as governor in 2010, he bluntly told a gathering of lobbyists, “we need you on the bus and if you are not on the bus, we will run over you with the bus. And I’m not kidding.”
His tough criticism of Trump also does not sit well with many Republicans who continue the support the president. As one Kasich insider said, “Virulent hatred is not a good mindset for putting together a winning campaign.”
If Sen. Sherrod Brown decides to enter the Democratic race for president in 2020 he will do so in a field that includes politicians and perhaps some unconventional candidates. Here are some of the names most often mentioned.
- Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
- Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.
- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
- Former Vice President Joe Biden
- Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg
- Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.
- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo
- Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro
- Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas
- Former Attorney General Eric Holder
- Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.
- Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
- Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick
- Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe
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