U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, announced Thursday he is not running for president in 2020.
Brown, who was re-elected to a third Senate term in November, made the decision official in a conference call with Ohio reporters Thursday morning.
He made his decision after a little less than five months of consideration, trips to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina where he pounded his would-be campaign slogan — the dignity of work — into the minds of voters and, he hopes, his fellow Democrats and, of course, long conversations with his ultimately supportive family.
It still wasn't enough to convince him.
Instead, he said Thursday, he'd stay in the Senate.
“I fight best when I bring joy to the battle,” he said. “I find that joy fighting for Ohio in the Senate.”
Brown, who Hillary Clinton considered as a possible running mate in 2016, didn’t rule out the possibility of serving as a running mate in 2020, but he didn’t rule it in either, saying simply “that’s just not a concern of mine now.” Nor did he endorse any of the other Democrats in the race, though he said he was prepared to fight for Democrats in 2020 for both the Senate and the White House.
Brown has lost only one election since 1975
Brown, 66, has worked in public service since 1975. He has only lost one race, in 1990 to Bob Taft for Secretary of State, winning race after race even as the Democratic-dominated state he was first elected to grew steadily more Republican. He is the only Ohio Democrat to hold statewide nonjudicial office.
The premise of his run was that he’d be able to lure the same working and middle–class that was drawn to President Donald Trump in 2016 by his pseudo-populist rhetoric. Trump, Brown has insisted, is not a populist: instead, he said in a rally kicking off his “Dignity of Work” tour, Trump “uses his phony populism to distract from the fact that he has used the White House to enrich billionaires like himself.”
On Thursday, he vowed he’d still fight for Democrats to win the House and Senate in 2020 and vow to continue to fight for workers to be prioritized as part of the Democratic platform.
Former Democratic congressman Dennis Eckart of Cleveland said Brown, “as a non-candidate, is now both free and uniquely positioned to help define the way forward to win in 2020 as only he knows how in places like Ohio and the Midwest.”
Democrats had cheered the potential entry of Brown into the race, in part because Brown could appeal to the same industrial Midwestern states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan that Trump used to capture the White House in 2016.
"@SherrodBrown could have been a contendah! His departure eliminates a potential tier one candidate from the race," tweeted former President Barack Obama adviser David Axelrod Thursday.
But there were obstacles.
Because so many Democrats had already entered the race, it was difficult for Brown to raise the millions of dollars he would need to wage a competitive campaign in the early presidential contests next year of Iowa and New Hampshire.
And the imminent entry into the race of former Vice President Joe Biden also could’ve presented a hurdle, though Brown insisted that Biden’s decision to run or not run had no impact on his decision. Still, both Brown and Biden would appeal to the same voters, though Biden is better known and better poised to raise tens of millions of dollars.
Franklin County Commissioner John O’Grady said during the past week, Biden has telephoned Democratic officials in the state to express his interest in running.
“He hasn’t called me, but he has called some of my friends,” O’Grady said. “He’s the former vice president of the United States. If he enters the race, he’s very formidable.”
Although Brown is among the more ambitious politicians Ohio has produced, he also has a pragmatic streak. Those close to him say he would never enter a race for public office if he did not believe he had a reasonable chance to win.
“At this stage of his career, he was not ready to make this decision,” said James Ruvolo, former chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party. “He’s 66 years old and he just got re-elected to a six year term. And he likes the Senate. He’s good at it. His career is in the Senate and he realizes that.”
David Yepsen, a former Iowa political columnist and the host of “Iowa Press,” said Brown’s decision not to run “hurts the Democratic party, because he would’ve brought a voice and a style to the campaign that’s going to be missing.”
“It could hurt the party if they don’t find somebody else to show them a path in the industrial Midwest,” he said.
Allies said they also feared that opponents would once again capitalize on Brown’s divorce from his first wife, Larke Recchie. The divorce was contentious enough that she filed a restraining order against him, but the two have long since become friendly, with the Recchies holding fundraisers in their home for all three of Brown’s Senate campaigns and Larke Recchie taping an ad where she came to her ex-husband’s defense.
But while the voters of Ohio are well-acquainted with the story, national voters are not, said Yepsen.
Beyond that: Brown is a white, middle-aged man during an era when Democratic voters seem attracted to electing women and minority candidates.
“He’s a Midwestern guy, he’s a white guy, he’s upper middle age,” said Mark Caleb Smith of Cedarville University. “That’s probably not the way to stand out right now in the Democratic Party.”
But Brown brushed aside those obstacles Thursday, insisting instead that he felt he could be most impactful in the Senate – an echo of the very sentiment his fellow Ohio senator, Republican Rob Portman, expressed when he decided not to run for president in 2020.
“I approach this job with an optimism a lot of politicians don’t have,” Brown said.