Dems look to pop­ulism

The Record (Troy, NY) - - FRONT PAGE -

“I think it’s all about the dig­nity of work,” says Demo­cratic Sen. Sher­rod Brown in an in­ter­view in the back­seat of his Chevy Sub­ur­ban. “I talk about how we value work. Peo­ple who get up ev­ery day and work hard and do what we ex­pect of them should be able to get ahead. I don’t think they hear that enough from Repub­li­cans or na­tional Democrats.”

It is an old-fash­ioned theme much fa­vored by Brown, who proudly sees him­self as a la­bor Demo­crat. But it is also a di­rect re­sponse to the 2016 po­lit­i­cal catas­tro­phe for Brown’s party across the Mid­west — and espe- cially in Ohio.

One bot­tom-line truth of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics is that given the way the Elec­toral Col­lege op­er­ates Democrats need to re­verse the flight of the white work­ing class to Don­ald Trump’s GOP. Ohio is ground zero this year in test­ing the dura­bil­ity of Trump’s coali­tion.

In Brown’s quest for re-elec­tion, the ap­peal to work­ers is work­ing. While Ohio swung from a 3-point vic­tory for Barack Obama in 2012 to an 8-point Trump win, Brown has en­joyed leads from 13 to 18 points over Repub­li­can Rep. Jim Re­nacci in three polls over the last month.

Democrats are not count­ing on that sort of mar­gin for Brown, but even com­ing in at half that range would un­der­score the fragility of Trump’s hold on his own elec­torate.

One key in­di­ca­tor will be the out­come in Ma­hon­ing County, home to the ail­ing blue-col­lar strong­hold of Youngstown. Few places in the coun­try of­fered a more dra­matic ex­am­ple of Trump’s suc­cess in turn­ing eco­nomic dis­con­tent into an elec­toral wind­fall. In 2012, Obama carried the county by nearly 28 points; Hil­lary Clin­ton man­aged to win it in 2016 by just 3.

Brown has a po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage in the state’s once thriv­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing re­gions be­cause he has been a con­sis­tent critic of free-trade pacts such as NAFTA, an area of com­mon ground with Trump. “If peo­ple ask, I say I agree with him on trade,” Brown said. “I will agree with Trump when he’s right. I don’t think he’s right very of­ten.”

In­deed, when Brown spoke Sun­day at the state’s Demo­cratic con­ven­tion here, he drew his most explosive ap­plause for tout­ing his vote against the con­fir­ma­tion of Brett Ka­vanaugh to the Supreme Court. If Repub­li­cans are count­ing on pro-Ka­vanaugh sen­ti­ment to mo­bi­lize their base, Democrats here showed that the GOP’s dis­missal of Chris­tine Blasey Ford’s al­le­ga­tions against Ka­vanaugh gen­er­ated at least as much out­rage.

Brown ex­co­ri­ated Repub­li­cans for their treat­ment of Ford, but he turned his ar­gu­ment to­ward the eco­nomic, stress­ing that he op­posed Ka­vanaugh early on be­cause the nom­i­nee had “a his­tory and record of putting his thumb on the jus­tice scales” in fa­vor of “Wall Street over con­sumers” and “health in­sur­ance com­pa­nies over pa­tients.”

His men­tion of health in­sur­ance com­pa­nies was no ac­ci­dent. In this year’s other big con­test in Ohio, Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date Richard Cor­dray faces Repub­li­can At­tor­ney Gen­eral Michael DeWine. And in a vari­a­tion on a strat­egy be­ing pur­sued by Democrats around the coun­try, Cor­dray is mak­ing a ma­jor is­sue of DeWine’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in a 2011 law­suit against the Affordable Care Act.

Over­turn­ing the act would have killed its in­sur­ance pro­tec­tions for those with pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions. DeWine is now try­ing to sug­gest that he fa­vors such safe­guards, but Cor­dray noted in an in­ter­view that “peo­ple have be­gun to rec­og­nize how much is at stake, and what it means to have your cov­er­age stripped away when you get sick.” Repub­li­cans, he added, “are scram­bling around try­ing to find dif­fer­ent po­si­tions.”

EJ Dionne Colum­nist

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