In 2006, Sherrod Brown ran on an anti-war populist economic message and won in towns across Ohio long written-off by Democrats. On March 4, the Democratic primary will be held in the state, with Obama possibly looking to continue a streak of victories, while Clinton faces as close to a must-win situation as we are likely to see in the fight for the nomination.
While Senator Brown has said he won’t endorse either candidate before the Ohio primary, he’s in close contact with both candidates, and in an interview with me he spoke candidly about trade, globalization, and lessons on how to win in his state. To paraphrase, it’s about economic populism, stupid. And as Obama battles to make inroads with the white and Latino working-class, and Clinton distances herself from the trade policies of her husband’s administration, Ohio is there for the taking.
Here then is the transcript of my conversation with Senator Brown:
Q: How are you approaching any endorsement decision?
I will not endorse before the Ohio primary. I’m weighing what my state does, that’s certainly part of it. Also, my conversations with both Barack and Hillary, and with Governor Sebelius calling for Barack, and with Bill Clinton calling for Hillary, and Dick Durbin – all the people who have called for them, in addition to talking directly with the candidates… [we] talk about trade, talk about a populist, progressive message in Ohio, talk about privatization and anti-privatization, and all the things they need to do around tax and trade policy.
Both of them are obviously significantly better than Bush Republicans, McCain. They’re close. I’ve talked to Barack a lot about his Patriot Corporation Act, which is not trade per se, but it’s certainly part of the economic package around globalization. The Patriot Corporation Act has not gotten the attention that I would hope it would. But, basically it says that if you play by the rules, if you pay decent wages, health benefits, pension; do your production here; don’t resist unionization on neutral card check, then you will be designated a “Patriot Corporation” and you will get tax advantages and some [preference] on government contracts. Jan Schakowsky first came to me… I co-sponsored and worked on it with her in 2005 or 2006. And Barack has been a sponsor of it in the Senate. Hillary is not on it as of now, but those are the kinds of things I want to see them talk about and do and I am hopeful – and pretty much expect – that they will talk about those issues in Ohio.
Q: Have you had a chance to talk to Sen. Clinton about the Patriot Corporation Act?
Yes, I did some time, back – early, like October or November. I’ve talked to her since about other things, more specifically, trade. And Barack I’ve talked to within the last week both on trade and on the Patriot Corporation Act. It does two things, the Patriot Corporation Act and better trade policy: it helps win Ohio and helps them govern in the right way. I think you can really take the country in a very different direction building a progressive message around that kind of economic issue – the Patriot Corporation Act and trade. We won 32 or 33 more counties than John Kerry did mostly in small towns in rural Ohio where they were very responsive to a populist progressive message. One town in particular – this is something that just happened – there’s a company called American Standard, they make toilets, plumbing fixtures, you’ll see them in near any public restroom anywhere. They’re in Tiffin, Ohio, town of 20,000. They’ve just announced back around 3 months ago, the closing of the plant. It was bought by some investors, they’re moving offshore, they’re honoring the union contract as far as they have to, which is those who already have their 30 years. If you have less than 30 you’re pretty screwed–they give you something, but you can’t get to the 30 years because they close the plant. And the company that came in and bought it was Bain Capital, Mitt Romney’s firm…. These investors come in, take millions of dollars out of the company, and you know, it’s pension and healthcare. And those are going on all over the country. And this is a town of 20,000. I carried that county, Kerry didn’t. They had already laid off some people…. It’s those kinds of situations that cause small town Ohio to vote for somebody like me regardless of the social issues.