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Salena Zito / Nov. 24, 2020

Centrist Democrat Tim Ryan Concerned About His Party: ‘Our Brand Is Not Good’

“We have 70 million people who either hate us or are afraid of us or believe there is this vast spread of socialism in our party.”

HOWLAND TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Tim Ryan says there is a certain kind of letdown you feel when you lose your home county — even in an election that you win.

“It certainly does sting,” he said bluntly.

The former presidential candidate won his 10th congressional race over Republican Christina Hagan to represent the five counties of Mahoning, Portage, Stark, Summit and Trumbull that make up the legendary “valley” by 7 percentage points. But he fell short by 1.5 points in the place he calls home.

“It was a tough year for a lot of moderate Democrats around here and around the country,” said Ryan.

Youngstown State University political science professor Paul Sracic said when the 13th Congressional District seat was drawn after the last census, it was one of the most Democratic seats in the Ohio delegation.

“Ten years later, the core of the district has seemed to have turned Republican,” he said. “In Trumbull County alone, we lost a state senator. We lost the state rep. We lost the long-term county commissioner. In Portage County, we lost the state rep. We lost a county commissioner in Stark County and five countywide elected seats.”

Ryan lays the blame on a brand that voters in Middle America do not trust to have their back, which especially hurts in a district legendary for its support from working-class Democrats.

“Our brand is not good,” he said. “We have 70 million people who either hate us or are afraid of us or believe there is this vast spread of socialism in our party. It is why we lost so many seats in the House, or some seats were a lot closer than we wanted.”

Ryan points to a quote he heard last week from Charlie Cook of the Cook Political Report that he says summarizes how much elections have changed: “It used to be that all politics are local, now it seems that all local politics are national.”

Going into last Tuesday, Republicans were projected to lose 15 to 20 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Not only did that not happen but Republicans may also gain up to 13 new seats.

Ryan also lays the blame on Twitter, where too many staffers, congressional members and the media volley outrages back and forth at each other or set social justice lines in the sand. Such issues never fly in places like his hometown of Niles, Ohio. While it leads everyone in the vacuum of Twitter to think those are the issues voters care about, Ryan adamantly disagrees.

“That is just not the case. Voters don’t care about the last Twitter fight,” Ryan said. “They care about jobs and the economy.”

On Sunday, a dust-up between Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Conor Lamb erupted on Twitter, when she called the lack of digital presence in his campaign a poor strategy for Democrats, highlighting his tight race in western Pennsylvania.

He clapped back with a remark about her not having to face a real challenge in a general election, and Twitter went crazy. It is the very thing in which Ryan says he has no interest in engaging.

Ryan acknowledges members like Ocasio-Cortez have a much larger megaphone than he or any other centrist Democrats trying to do their best to represent their districts. But he’s hoping Joe Biden’s megaphone is the one that prevails.

“In the election, I thought he did a good job. He fended off the energy stuff. He fended off the police stuff, saying we got to sit down with the police and law enforcement and the civil rights groups and take the temperature down,” Ryan said. “I mean, he had good answers to these provocations, and that’s why I think he’s got a real shot to rebrand the party.”

Ryan’s frustration with his party’s leadership and brand is nothing new. Four years ago, he ran against Nancy Pelosi for the House speaker position after the 2016 presidential election results had placed the Democrats in a historic minority.

Pelosi won. But the Democrats gained back seats in 2018, only to lose many of them again on Election Day. This time, he says, he won’t challenge her for the speakership role.

“There are many people who think my party has abandoned them,” Ryan said. “I think if we start having really tangible results on the economy, on COVID, a good infrastructure package, we have the chance to head towards the midterm on a pretty good economy.”

He went on to say: “Then it could be an interesting time to be running for a Democrat. Under a new brand with a good economy, it could look more the Clinton economy of ‘96, than the Clinton economy in '94.”

He added, “Joe Biden has a moment to put a new name, a new brand on the party. If he can do that, we can stop our losses.”


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