Sherrod Brown runs as Biden without the baggag

WATERLOO, Iowa — Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Sherrod Brown are on an early collision course in the initial days of the 2020 presidential race.

They’re chasing the same potential supporters, touting the same themes and even using some of the same language to go after President Donald Trump. And Brown, kicking off a pre-campaign tour of key presidential voting states last week, made clear that if he gets into the race he intends to run, essentially, as Biden without the baggage.

Chris Schwartz, a Black Hawk county supervisor who hosted an event for Brown in Iowa, introduced him by ticking off a list of votes — including opposing NAFTA, opposing the Defense of Marriage Act and voting against authorization of the war in Iraq — that had featured Biden on the other side.

“All those things that I said that Sherrod Brown got right, Joe Biden got every single one of those things wrong.” Schwartz said. He said that the congressional record might not come to mind immediately for other caucus-goers. But “we’ve seen Biden on the campaign trail many times already so we already know what to expect,” Schwartz continued. “He certainly has done great things for the country but I just don’t think that’s what folks are looking for.”

Brown’s “Dignity of Work” tour introduced himself as a progressive who can “talk to workers” and railed against the distractions of Trump’s “phony populism” — echoing a memorable Biden line from the midterm campaign trail. Brown’s political pitch is that he can win back the Midwest for Democrats after winning reelection in Ohio in 2018 — a version of the rationale that the Scranton-born former VP can reconnect Democrats with the working-class white voters who have left the party in recent years.COUNTDOWN TO 2020

The race for 2020 starts now. Stay in the know. Follow our presidential election coverage.EmailSign Up

By signing up you agree to receive email newsletters or alerts from POLITICO. You can unsubscribe at any time. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Biden begins miles ahead of the Ohio senator in terms of name recognition and early support, a factor that is sure to weigh on Brown as he considers whether to run for president. But Brown is clearly positioning himself to take that mantle should Biden opt against a 2020 run. And some allies are taking it a step further, arguing that Brown is better positioned than Biden to run in the lane that the former vice president would likely choose.

“I do think that there are things about Sherrod Brown and Joe Biden that are similar and there are things that are distinctly different,” said Michael Wager, who is helping to run an outside group urging Brown to run for president. “But on policy, I think you can look at Sherrod’s many years of public service and you’d be hard pressed to find a place where he had to pivot on an issue because he started out in one place and made a hard turn because the politics of it changed. He’s largely unwavering and I think largely because his instincts are correct to begin.”

Brown himself is more diplomatic. When asked whether he and Biden are trying to make the same appeal to voters, Brown pivoted to his campaign slogan. “I’m not going to make the comparison to anybody, but my whole career has been about the dignity of work,” Brown said.

As Brown and Biden both consider the presidential race, they and their respective supporters have both tried to frame themselves in a specific light: progressive Democrats with long lists of liberal policy positions who can nevertheless reach out to voters across the partisan divide.

Former Vice President Joe Biden

2020 ELECTIONS

Biden presses Hill friends for 2020 support

By BURGESS EVERETT and HEATHER CAYGLE

And some of the policy changes Biden has made have also won him plaudits in the past; memorably, he jumped out in front of his party in support of same-sex marriage in 2012, with former President Barack Obama voicing his support later. Talking points circulated in recent weeks by Biden’s allies describe the former vice president as “a warrior for the middle class for his entire life” as well as “a progressive champion.”

“He was outspoken on LGBTQ rights even when every pundit around said that it was a political mistake. Because, for him, it was always about the simple question of ‘who do you love?’” read the document. “Not about polls or politics. He introduced one of the very first climate bills in the Senate. He’s stood by unions unabashedly and unapologetically.”

A spokesman for Biden declined to comment for this story.

Sherrod Brown and Joe Biden peruse the menu at a restaurant in Cleveland
Former Vice President Joe Biden begins miles ahead of the Ohio senator in terms of name recognition and early support, a factor that is sure to weigh on Brown. | Mark Duncan/AP Photo

A former presidential campaign aide speculated that Brown is placing himself in a good position if Biden doesn’t run.

“It’s a good lane to hone in on,” the person said. “There aren’t a lot of candidates who have a sort of populist resonance.”

Antjuan Seawright, a South Carolina-based Democratic strategist who was an adviser for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign in the state, said Brown pitching himself as Biden-like “gives him the opportunity to raise issues from a Rust-Belt standpoint.”

But, he said, “there’s only one Joe Biden,” and the strategy could backfire: “Candidates make a mistake when they try to emulate someone else instead of working on perfecting who they are. … Emulation brings some friends, but all of the enemies.”

Brown will also face questions from the left — he has firmly refused to endorse Medicare for all, for example, saying he first wants to see more incremental changes like lowering the Medicare eligibility age. But at each stop in his early pre-campaign tour, Brown has laid out his background of winning elections in an increasingly Republican-leaning state while also staying a champion of major liberal issues like fighting for same sex marriage and voting against the war in Iraq.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar

2020 ELECTIONS

2020 Dems see danger in the Mueller probe

By DARREN SAMUELSOHN

“I think Democratic primary voters want somebody that’s going to be on the side of workers and will not compromise on civil rights and workers’ rights and LGBT rights,” Brown said during a stop in Cresco.

“If I get in this race, I’d be the only Democrat on this stage I think that voted against the Iraq War or voted against the Defense of Marriage Act and voted against NAFTA and has a lifetime ‘F’ from the NRA, so I don’t worry about progressive bona fides,” Brown continued. “I worry about Democrats talking to workers and winning places like Howard County and winning places where Democrats don’t do so well -small city Ohio, small city Iowa.”

Yet while Brown is still trying to break out of the bottom of early 2020 Democratic primary polls, Biden often leads the field.

“I think that the greater burden is on Brown. Biden has a big reputation,” said Roy Neel, a former top adviser to Bill Clinton and Al Gore. “He comes into it with a pretty good feeling among most Democrats. There are liberals who hold a few things against him — but Brown is in the same boat in that regard.”

“So to a certain extent, their appeal is similar,” Neel continued. “But Biden’s reputation is much larger.”

Leave a Reply