Rep. Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat who has made waves by challenging Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will visit Iowa and New Hampshire in the coming weeks as he considers a presidential run.
Ryan represents an area where President Donald Trump converted many longtime Democratic voters and he has shown mild interest in a White House bid since 2016. The upcoming travel, which he confirmed Friday to BuzzFeed News, suggests an escalation as he nears a decision.
“I’m concerned about the country falling behind, not being able to compete, and large swaths of the country — two-thirds, probably — not plugged into any of the growth,” he said in a telephone interview. “I don’t know how much longer we can fall behind before we can’t catch up.”
Ryan had few concrete details about the trips. He said an activist whom he declined to identify invited him to a New Hampshire “grassroots meet-and-greet” event after hearing Ryan speak out about General Motors’ decision to idle a factory in his district. In March, he said, he’s scheduled to attend an agriculture forum at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa.
The Democratic field is growing by the week, with candidates and would-be candidates already campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and the other early states. Ryan, if he runs, would enter with name-recognition challenges. To the extent he is known nationally, it’s for his past opposition to Pelosi.
A Pelosi ally earlier in his career, Ryan failed in an effort to unseat her as House Democratic leader in 2016, arguing that the party needed a change after losing ground in Midwest districts like his. Despite continuing to call for new leadership and considering another run for the job in this Congress, he ultimately backed her as speaker when Democrats regained control of the chamber last year.
Ryan has lately been overshadowed in his own state by Sen. Sherrod Brown, who recently completed a highly publicized trip to Iowa and is visiting New Hampshire this weekend. Brown has not officially launched a campaign, but his labor-friendly reputation gives him a profile similar to Ryan’s. On Friday, Ryan said he has been in touch with Brown, but he indicated the senator’s plans would have no bearing on his.
“My conclusion on the whole thing is I love the guy,” Ryan said of Brown. He also said he loves Joe Biden, the former vice president and potential 2020 candidate.
He then suggested the party would benefit from all three running as representatives of their working-class hometowns: “We’re at the point in the country, and as a party, where I don’t think it hurts our party to have a number of people on stage talking about Youngstown, Ohio; Scranton, Pennsylvania; and Mansfield, Ohio.”
Ryan’s perch in the Youngstown area could make him attractive among the longshot prospects in a crowded primary. Trump was the first Republican presidential candidate to win Ryan’s home county since 1972. (Ryan also has a history of being a more conservative Democrat — he was anti-abortion until 2015, when many suspected he was thinking about a run for higher office.)
“What I see in my life in Youngstown is that the workers have just been left out, and we’ve got to figure out how to cut them in on the deal,” Ryan said. “They don’t want to be billionaires, but they do want a little cottage and a fishing boat on Lake Erie — not a huge mansion.”
Running for higher office, be it speaker or senator or governor, is something that’s often been on Ryan’s mind. He’s always decided to stay put in a seat he’s held since succeeding his old boss, the late Jim Traficant, who was expelled from Congress after being convicted and sentenced to prison on corruption charges. Even his early 2020 flirtations, which included trips to New Hampshire and other early primary states back to 2017, had quieted down after a while.
Lately, though, Ryan has been seeding more chatter. He told the Washington Post that he recently discussed 2020 with Dick Gephardt, the former House Democratic leader and past presidential candidate. And Fox News’ Neil Cavuto pressed Ryan on Tuesday during a pre-State of the Union interview. “Yes, I will [consider running], and I have, and I am,” Ryan said, before unleashing a rant about China’s increased stature in the global economy.
Fox News, known for right-leaning anchors and punditry, is loathed by many on the political left. (Brown’s wife, Connie Schultz, has said several times that she doesn’t want her husband talking to the cable network.) Asked Friday about his willingness to appear on the channel, Ryan questioned those in his party who dismiss Fox News as a communication outlet.
“I think you have to be on Fox News,” he said. “I don’t see how you can run for president of the United States and not go on Fox News. When you go to airports and you sit in restaurants and random places, especially in the the Midwest, they have Fox News on.”