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Democrat Sherrod Brown Tours Early Voting States


It's still just February of 2019, but the 2020 presidential race is already up and running. It's the most diverse field of Democrats ever, some more known than others. And they all want to challenge President Trump next November. They've also announced their candidacies in a variety of ways. Here's Senator Elizabeth Warren at a rally yesterday in Massachusetts.


ELIZABETH WARREN: I stand here today to declare that I am a candidate for president of the United States of America.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Author and spiritual adviser to Oprah, Marianne Williamson, announced her candidacy on stage in Los Angeles last month. And in Texas...


JULIAN CASTRO: And I'm proud to call myself a son of San Antonio.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Former mayor Julian Castro.


CASTRO: I am a candidate for president of the United States of America.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Former Congressman John Delaney announced via a Washington Post op-ed back in 2017. And earlier this month, Senator Cory Booker tweeted his news with a slick campaign video.


CORY BOOKER: In America, we have a common pain. But what we're lacking is a sense of common purpose.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A New York tech entrepreneur announced by video, too.


ANDREW YANG: Hello. I'm Andrew Yang. And I'm running for president as a Democrat in 2020.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Then there are the television talk shows. Here's Representative Tulsi Gabbard on CNN.


VAN JONES: Are you going to run?

TULSI GABBARD: I have decided to run and will be making a formal announcement within the next week.

JONES: Whoa.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Senator Kamala Harris on "Good Morning America."


ROBIN ROBERTS: Do you have an announcement you'd like to make?

KAMALA HARRIS: I am running for president of the United States.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Senator Amy Klobuchar says she's making a big announcement this afternoon in Minneapolis. What could it be? Several more potential candidates have formed exploratory committees but haven't quite made it official, like South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. And here's Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert."


STEPHEN COLBERT: How often does the exploratory committee go out and explore and come back and go, yeah, yeah, don't run?

KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: Well, it's an important first step.


GILLIBRAND: And it's one I am taking because I'm going to run.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And then there's Sherrod Brown, the populist Democratic senator from Ohio. Even though he's still mulling a run for the presidency, Brown's essentially in campaign mode, visiting key early voting states. He's seen by some as the antidote to Donald Trump's popularity in the Midwest. NPR's Asma Khalid reports from his latest stop in New Hampshire.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Sherrod Brown calls this trip his dignity of work tour. He's an evangelist for workers and better wages. At a bookshop in Concord, he insisted, you don't win a state like Ohio if you don't understand that.


SHERROD BROWN: Democrats think you have to choose between running to the progressive base, as I believe we should, and talking to working families, talking to workers, that it's a choice. And it can't be a choice.

KHALID: Brown and his supporters will often point out that he's been talking about unfair trade deals and working class wages long before Donald Trump entered the political arena.


BROWN: I look at the phony populism of Donald Trump, always dividing people with his rhetoric.

KHALID: Part of Brown's goal is to reclaim populism.


BROWN: Real populism is never racist. It's never anti-Semitic. It doesn't divide people. It doesn't give tax cuts to rich people. It doesn't do any of those things, real populism. And that's what this fight's about.

KHALID: It's an economic message ripe for the Democratic primaries. And a woman in the crowd, Lizzie Shackleford, tells Brown she hopes he joins the race. She thinks he has what it takes to fundamentally shift the equation between corporations and workers. But then she raises an issue.


LIZZIE SHACKLEFORD: My biggest concern, though, is how you will win the primary at a time when Democrats are really looking for change from white men.

KHALID: There's a slight pause, a few mmm hmms in agreement, and some chuckles. Brown acknowledges the awkwardness but then dives into an explanation.


BROWN: That's rather blunt.


BROWN: I think the race is about ideas. And I think Democrats understand that.

KHALID: He then points to his voting record in Congress.


BROWN: If we're in the race, I will be the only one on stage that's had a longtime F from the NRA, only Democrat on stage that voted against NAFTA. I'll be the only Democrat on stage that voted against the Iraq War. I'll be the only...

KHALID: Brown is highlighting both his progressive credentials and his experience. He's been in Congress longer than most of his fellow Democrats running for president. And his answer was convincing to voters like Sally Helms and her longtime friend Gerri King.

SALLY HELMS: He sounded like he really had an answer to that question.

GERRI KING: I think he's asked himself that question.

HELMS: Right, and he's got a wife who probably asked him that question.

KING: Probably asked that question.

KHALID: His wife is Connie Schultz, the spunky, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who introduced him at this event. She's got her own fan base among progressives. One of the things you hear from people who've supported Brown for a long time is that he is the real deal. And that's how Helms felt after hearing him.

HELMS: He's about the fifth or sixth candidate that I've seen. And he's my favorite.

KHALID: Brown is far less known than some of his colleagues in the Senate who've already declared their presidential ambitions. It's not clear how he would compensate for low name recognition. But he has something few other Democratic candidates have - Midwest credibility.

PAT CLARK: He comes from a state, a gritty state, Ohio.

KHALID: Pat Clark, like a lot of people who tell me they like Brown, mentions the senator's roots in Ohio.

CLARK: One of those states that has a lot of industrial complexes, many of which have turned to rust. And he's been a champion and tried to bring back good jobs.

KHALID: In the 2018 midterms, Brown won Ohio by nearly 7 points. In 2016, Hillary Clinton lost the state by about 8 points. Brown's logic is that if he can win Ohio, then he could also win nearby states that are more liberal, like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. And if he can do that, then he could win the White House. Asma Khalid, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.