Sen. Brown says Dems will overcome challenge of reaching voters during pandemic

By: - August 31, 2020 12:40 am

Ohio U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

The political conventions have come and gone. In a normal presidential election year, the candidates would spend the fall touring the country, making sure to spend plenty of time in the swing state of Ohio.

That won’t be the case this year, but U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said Friday he is confident his party will tilt a virtually tied Buckeye State into candidate Joe Biden’s favor this November.

In lieu of rallies and campaign events, that means more dropping leaflets off to homes and organizing volunteers by Zoom calls. Akron Democrats hosted a socially-distanced “Drive-Thru Party” this past weekend, with fundraising supporters chatting with candidates and receiving a catered meal — all without having to leave their cars. 

Such is campaigning in 2020.

“I think the candidates have been pretty quick to adapt,” Brown said.

The Democratic National Convention, held mostly through virtual means, did not give much of an Ohio focus. Brown was included as part of a mid-week video package on the economy, but was not among any of the day’s featured speakers. 

In fact, the only featured DNC speaker from Ohio was a Republican: former Gov. John Kasich. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, who briefly ran for president alongside Biden, was also included to represent Ohio as part of the roll call vote.

“I don’t know why Ohio didn’t play a bigger role,” Brown said.

The Republican National Convention held this past week featured speeches by U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana and Ja’Ron Smith, a Cleveland native who serves as a deputy assistant to the president.

Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted did record videos from their respective homes wishing Republicans a good convention. DeWine, who is an honorary co-chair to Donald Trump’s campaign in Ohio, said he wished he could be present to watch the president be renominated in person. 

The governor complimented the president for hosting the convention through virtual means given the ongoing pandemic. (Trump’s campaign did host large gatherings for the featured speaker each night, culminating in a largely-maskless crowd to hear his renomination speech on the White House grounds.)

Ohio will return to the spotlight when Biden and Trump open their debate schedule on Sept. 29 at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University.

Biden and Trump have been within a handful of percentage points from each other in Ohio, according to multiple polls conducted of voters during the summer. The most recent poll conducted by CBS News/YouGov resulted in a statistical tie. 

Speaking to reporters Friday, Brown offered further thoughts on current events:

On Goodyear

Brown once again took the president to task for having called for a boycott of Goodyear Tires, a company based in Akron.

Brown said the tweet could lead to some Goodyear workers losing their jobs due to impacted sales from a potential boycott from conservatives. 

“It was irresponsible,” the senator said. “It was wrong, and what president calls for a boycott of an iconic american company?”

Asked about the tweet at a recent coronavirus news conference, DeWine said he disagreed with the president’s urging of a Goodyear boycott.

On the election

Brown, who once served as Ohio Secretary of State, was asked about the General Election, voting safety and some misinformation about voting being spread in the state.

He encouraged Ohioans to vote by mail or to drop off ballots at their county’s board of elections office if they are seeking to avoid polling places. 

Brown took issue with current Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s directive that counties only have one drop box in place. The Ohio Democratic Party is suing to permit counties to have multiple boxes available in each county this fall. 

“It’s difficult for a whole lot of rural voters and frankly voters in big urban areas too to get to the one place to drop off a mail ballot,” Brown said, adding his hope that LaRose “would relent” on the one dropbox directive.

Brown said states should offer extended periods of early, in-person voting at boards of elections offices and that secretaries of state should at least send out absentee ballot applications to all voters, if not the blank ballots themselves.

Ohio does offer early in-person voting for four weeks prior to Election Day, and LaRose will be sending absentee ballot applications to all registered voters within the next few weeks.

On conventions and legislating during a pandemic

Should political parties continue to host large-scale conventions once the pandemic subsides and it is safe to do so?

Brown thinks so, saying it brings enthusiasm and excitement to the party. Being together also allows people of different ideologies to come together and learn from one another. (Although, the Mansfield native said the party could probably do without some of the “short little speeches that sort of go on and on and on and on” that normal conventions typically have.)

Having personal interactions is one thing Brown said he misses about being able to work a traditional legislative schedule in Washington, D.C. 

“You learn things from each other,” Brown said. “One of the difficulties now of legislating is you don’t have the informal ‘grab somebody in the hall and talk to them,’ and maybe work out something you hadn’t thought of before. So we’re all missing those kinds of things in the workplace.”

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Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.