Sen. Sherrod Brown insists he loves his job in the U.S. Senate and has no interest in serving as someone’s vice president.
But try telling that to Democrats.
Many in the political establishment say Brown — who was a die-hard progressive long before Elizabeth Warren entered the Senate or Sen. Bernie Sanders launched his presidential bid — would be a politically savvy running mate pick for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should she win the Democratic nomination.
Brown, 63, endorsed Clinton last October.
“In any array of candidates out there, he’d be a particularly strong VP pick, one who would help bring in the constituencies that have been supporting Sen. Sanders over Hillary Clinton,” said Ben LaBolt, a former Brown campaign spokesman who went on to work in the Obama White House.
Democrats who have worked with Brown say he is something of an anomaly in the Senate: He’s a solid but pragmatic progressive who has been willing to cross the aisle in order to promote his agenda.
“He can play the inside-outside game really well,” said one Brown ally. “Sanders doesn’t bother playing the inside game, and Warren is still navigating that.”
Isaac Baker, a former Clinton spokesperson, said Brown might also help Democrats peel off some of the same working-class voters currently enamored with Republican Donald Trump.
“There are few people who are more articulate about the plight of working people in this country today,” Baker said. “And he does it in a way that seems less elitist and dilettante and more focused on the lives of working people, which I think is a real plus for him.”
Brown’s selection would come with complications. Should Clinton pick Brown, Ohio Gov. John Kasich would be tasked with filling that seat, and he’d likely pick a fellow Republican.
That loss might be crucial, Democrats say, during a year when a Trump GOP ticket might present a key opportunity for Democrats to retake the Senate.
That same problem wouldn’t exist, they say, if Clinton tapped former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, also a U.S. senator. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, would fill that vacancy, and he’d likely pick a Democrat.
“You can’t in good conscience give away a Senate seat you’re going to need if you’re going to be a good president,” said one Democrat, adding that Clinton would only pick Brown if she believed he alone could help deliver the presidency.
Still, Brown’s name keeps popping up, even though he’s been consistent when asked about the possibility.
“I don’t want to be president and I don’t want to be asked to be vice president,” he said during an appearance in Columbus last week.
Other political figures, thoughout history, have made similar statements only to reverse course after being asked by a presidential nominee.
“He’s never been enthusiastic about anything national in terms of looking toward his future, or at least I’m not aware of it,” Gerald Austin, an Ohio Democratic consultant, said about Brown. “But if somebody offers you the vice-presidency, very rarely does anybody ever turn that down.”
State Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus, a former chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said he has no doubt that Brown likes serving in the Senate. “But at some point, I think he’s dedicated to public service,” Leland said.
Others insist that if anyone would refuse such a promotion, it would be Brown. Jim Manley, a former spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, said Brown would find the idea of becoming the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee “pretty irresistible.”
Brown, said Manley, would more prefer being a “happy warrior in the Senate” than a vice-president.
Although some Democrats believe Clinton would need to diversify the ticket — perhaps with an Hispanic candidate — others say that pressure would be alleviated Trump is the nominee. Clinton, they say, won’t have to worry about getting Hispanics to vote for her, because polls suggest Hispanics are opposed to Trump’s immigration policies and thus unlikely to support him.
That makes luring the progressives — such as the people who support Sanders — even more important. And it also means that winning swing states will be vital.
Picking Brown, said Leland, “would make Ohio a slam dunk for the Democratic ticket in 2016.”
“It’s such an obvious choice for the Clinton team,” Leland said. “Adding Sherrod Brown to the ticket not only energizes the base that has been energized by Bernie Sanders, but also puts Ohio in the Democratic column, which, if history is any judgment, means we win.”
Alan Johnson of the Columbus Dispatch contributed to this report.
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