In Choosing Not to Run for President, Sherrod Brown Made the Right Decision

In a statement released yesterday, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown announced he will not seek the Democratic nomination in 2020. Although Brown had not been able to net big numbers in early primary polling, there was a growing consensus in political circles that his Midwestern roots and politics could’ve helped him run a competitive campaign.

With Brown now out, how he would have performed in next year’s presidential race will forever remain a mystery. One thing that’s certain, though, is this — his decision to stay in the Senate was the right move.

Though it has long been considered a swing state and bellwether, Brown’s home state of Ohio has become increasingly more favorable for Republicans. There are a few facts that back this up:

  1. FiveThirtyEight rates Ohio’s partisan lean at R+7.4, while the Cook Political Report places the state’s partisan voter index at R+3. Both of these numbers are calculated using results from recent presidential and legislative elections.
  2. To add specificity to the above point, Ohio voted for Trump in 2016 by a margin of over 8 percentage points. Across all races that night, the state ended up breaking a historic 10% more Republican than the United States.
  3. Even in 2018 — a year that many consider a “Blue Wave” — Ohio still voted red. As demonstrated by the numbers I crunched below, across Ohio’s 16 House districts, the GOP won the popular vote by almost 5 percentage points; the national popular vote, on the other hand, saw Democrats ahead by 8.6 percentage points.pic
  4. Last year’s Ohio governor race wasn’t much better for Democrats, either, with Republican Mike DeWine defeating Democrat Richard Cordray by just under 4 percentage points.
  5. Stepping away from the numbers, election prognosticator Larry Sabato’s initial 2020 Electoral College ratings have Ohio leaning Republican. That can obviously change as next November nears, but this marks an important shift from prior cycles and is perhaps the culmination of everything listed above.

Despite all of this, Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, managed to win re-election last year. And win did he ever, outperforming his Republican challenger by 6.8 percentage points.

Thus, while many members of his party continue to falter in Ohio, Brown keeps chugging along. And that’s exactly why it’s so smart for him to not run in 2020: if he won, he’d be forced to step down from his Senate seat, and there’s a good chance that a Republican fills it. 

I’ve written before about the Democrats’ slim fortunes for taking back the Senate in 2020 — if they want to regain Congress’s upper chamber, they’ll need to pick up at least three seats (four, if Trump gets a second term), without losing any of their own. Based on the map, that just doesn’t seem feasible. Brown ceding his Senate seat would make an already tall order even more difficult, if anything, giving the GOP an opportunity to extend their own lead.

Now to be fair, the stakes here aren’t as high as they were in 2010, when another man by the name of S. Brown won the late Ted Kennedy’s vacant Massachusetts Senate seat and gave Republicans the votes they needed to eliminate a filibuster-proof Democratic majority.

Still, given that Sherrod Brown likely would not have fulfilled a wholly unique niche in the Democratic field, it’s hard to imagine his absence being felt by a large swath of the primary electorate; the party can probably win without him as its nominee. Compare that to his crucial role in the Senate, and his decision begins to make even more sense. 

Brown concluded yesterday’s statement by acknowledging, “I will do everything I can to elect…a Democratic Senate in 2020. The best place for me to make that fight is in the United States Senate.” Based on his party’s big-picture best interests, he’s right.

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