Seth A. Richardson – February 2, 2019
DUBUQUE and CLINTON, Iowa – In the final day of his not-quite-a-presidential campaign trip to Iowa, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, pulled the biggest crowds on the three-day stint.
Brown, who has not officially declared he is running for president, started Saturday at a Dubuque coffee shop with before finishing in the afternoon at a union roundtable in Clinton. More than 100 people showed up in Dubuque and more than 50 union workers and advocates showed up in Clinton.
Dubuque and Clinton sit along the Mississippi River, the old industrial hub of Iowa that still boasts a union presence. The two cities and other communities like it along the river are demographically similar to the manufacturing hubs in Ohio that have formed the core of Brown’s base during his four-decade career in office.
Voters during the prior two days of Brown’s visit to Iowa, which holds the first-in-the-nation presidential caucus in 2020, were at the very least intrigued by Brown and his message about the “dignity of work” – Brown’s working class message focused on economic issues like wages, health care and job creation.
However, he faced some hesitancy from some Iowa voters, as most candidates do. Farmers questioned if he had the right message to woo rural voters. One woman in Waterloo engaged in a lively exchange with Brown on Friday night over his call for expanding Medicare to 55-year-olds as opposed to a Medicare-for-all style health care system, which is popular among the Democratic base.
But in Dubuque and Clinton, Brown and journalist Connie Schultz, his wife who is an integral part of Brown’s campaign, were welcomed with open arms.
Brown seemed more comfortable and jovial than at any time during his visit, even getting the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday” to one attendee.
Unlike the previous night in Waterloo, the crowd applauded Brown’s more politically pragmatic approach to health care. They were almost in lockstep with the senator’s opposition to trade deals like NAFTA and criticism of Republican President Donald Trump’s brand of populism.
Dave Donovan, 78, and Ann Bodnar-Donovan, 65, both retired teachers, were ecstatic after hearing Brown’s campaign pitch. Both of them supported Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in 2016, but said they are considering backing Brown after they have a chance to hear from all the candidates.
“I think what he stands for and what I like is he’s a voice for the voiceless,” Donovan said. “In political realms, there’s no voices doing anything for the poor. I’m going to listen to all (the candidates), but I like him because he’s down there with the folks who need a voice.”
Bodnar-Donovan was especially attracted to Brown’s emphasis on issues like wages and job loss.
“I knew he was going to talk about workers,” she said. “It’s really important to talk about workers in the United States because of the great divide between the rich and the poor and the loss of the jobs that have unions and pensions and benefits.”
Julie Maddox, 72, and also a retired teacher from Dubuque, deemed Brown electable and was also excited about his potential candidacy.
“The bottom line for me is I want someone who embraces my progressive values who is also electable,” she said. “My first impression of him is he’s very impressive. I like his legislative record and I think he’s got a very warm personality and a way of connecting with people that will be a real asset should he choose to campaign for president.”
Brown wouldn’t divulge if his strong showing in the river communities had swayed him any closer to making a decision to run for president. He reiterated that he would make a decision in March, as he has said in recent weeks.
But the clamor for Brown and his outward excitement at the campaign stops are the clearest indicator yet he is likely to jump in to the Democratic primary.
The biggest question about his impending run before his Iowa trip was whether his message would stick in Iowa, especially since he is more unknown than other candidates in the race. If the response to his Saturday stops are any indication, he could feasibly build a base in Eastern Iowa, considered the swing area of the state.